SAN MATEO, CA - Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D- San Francisco/San Mateo) is a fierce advocate for the prevention of rape and sexual assault in the military. She has spoken on the floor of the House of Representatives fourteen times to raise awareness about the low reporting and prosecution rates of sexual assaults perpetrated by U.S. service members onto other U.S. service members. Speier is the author of the STOP Act which would fundamentally change how sexual assault is handled by the military. Today Speier issued a response to a January 18, 2012 statement from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta regarding new efforts to curtail sexual assaults in the military:

“I offer loud applause with a caveat and distinct warning that the Department of Defense’s new military sexual trauma policies are not bold enough.

“The Secretary’s acknowledgement that sexual assault, in his words, ‘has no place in this Department,’ is needed. It sets the tone for our commanding officers who are expected to carry the message of zero tolerance to 1.4 million men and women in uniform. And I am glad to see the Secretary extended these new policies to include spouses and adult dependent children of those in the military. 

“The promise of improved training for the military’s sexual response personnel backed by a pledge for more resources to train investigators, prosecutor and judges is welcomed. 

“But, the core of the flawed system remains in place – unit commanders will continue to have complete and total discretion over incidents of assault in their unit. A commander can choose to investigate a case or sweep it under the rug. My legislation, H.R. 3435, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, or STOP Act aims to fundamentally change how sexual assault is handled in the military.  The STOP Act calls for an independent body to investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases and by doing so, it removes the inherent conflict of interest that exists in a command and control environment.  The department estimates that there were 19,000 sexual assaults in 2010 and that the overwhelming majority of these assaults were never reported. The “why” of these unreported cases isn’t answered by more training and statements of zero tolerance.

“I am advocating for the elimination of the conflicts that exist in the military sexual assault justice system. What Secretary Panetta is doing helps, but it is tinkering rather than overhauling a system that does not adequately protect the honor of the men and women in uniform.

“I will be sharing my concerns with Secretary Panetta and Airforce Major General Mary Kay Hertog, Director of the Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, in the hope that we can continue to move forward to rectify the injustices that befall men and women subjected to sexual assault in the military. 

Speier introduced the STOP Act on Wednesday, November 16, 2011. It is a bipartisan bill with 113 co-sponsors.  Speier is also honorary chair of Protect Our Defenders.