WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act that included the Article 32 Reform Act as an amendment, which fundamentally reforms how preliminary hearings are conducted in the military. The legislation was introduced last month by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo/Redwood City, Congressman Patrick Meehan, R-Springfield-PA and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California.
The bill will bring Article 32 proceedings more in line with civilian courts and limit the scope of the proceedings to the question of probable cause.
“In Article 32 proceedings, it is standard operating procedure for the defense team to subject the victim to every irrelevant, indecent, and outright degrading question one can imagine,” Speier said. “In a recent Naval Academy case, the victim was asked: ‘How wide do you open your mouth to perform oral sex?’ and ‘Did you feel like a “ho” the next morning.’ These questions would simply never be permitted in a civilian criminal trial, let alone in a preliminary hearing.”
The bill also prevents victims from being forced to testify at Article 32 proceedings, giving victims the choice to take the stand. A recent case of a 21-year-old female student at the Naval Academy has brought the need to reform Article 32 proceedings into vivid focus. The victim reported that three Navy football players raped her while she was intoxicated at a party but under an Article 32 proceeding had to endure 30 hours over a five-day period of humiliating questions that were meant to intimidate her into dropping the case.
Speier continued: “It is time we bring the military justice system in line with our civilian criminal courts and give the same rights to brave men and women who come forward to report a crime as their civilian counterparts. If we are serious about addressing the epidemic of sexual assault we must stop treating the victim as the criminal and continue protecting the sexual predators. This reform is by no means a substitute to taking cases out of the chain of command, which is imperative, but it does address a glaring and destructive flaw in the military justice system.”
The amendment is supported by Protect Our Defenders, a human rights organization that advocates for military sex assault survivors and the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).
Speier has shared the stories of 28 military sexual assault survivors for nearly three years and has introduced numerous bills and amendments to fundamentally reform the military justice system.
Susan Burke, an attorney who represents the Naval Academy victim and has been the staunchest legal advocate for survivors of military sexual assault, said about the amendment: “No one should be forced to endure what the Naval Academy Midshipman recently endured: an abusive quasi-judicial charade that was intended to suppress rather than elicit truth. I applaud Senator Boxer and Congresswoman Speier for drafting legislation that will reform this broken system and call on their Congressional colleagues to ensure its immediate passage.”
Congresswoman Jackie Speier is proud to represent California’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of San Francisco and San Mateo counties. She is a senior member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). In her role on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Congresswoman is a ranking member on the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care, and Entitlements and serves on the Subcommittee on National Security. She serves on the Readiness Subcommittee and the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee on HASC and is a member of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Congresswoman Speier was appointed to serve as a Senior Whip for the Democratic caucus in the 113th Congress.