Washington, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Military Personnel, and Congressman Don Bacon (R-NE) today introduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to establish a “Safe to Report” policy across the military. This bill, along with companion legislation that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) plan to introduce in the U.S. Senate, would empower survivors of sexual violence to report these incidents by ensuring that they will not face punishment for certain collateral misconduct such as underage drinking or violating curfew, unless aggravating circumstances exist.

Sexual assault rates continue to rise across the military, while survivor reporting remains unacceptably low and falling. In 2018, roughly 20,5000 servicemembers indicated that they suffered from some type of sexual assault, a nearly 40 percent increase from 2016. Only 38 percent of survivors in 2018 came forward to report the crimes, a decrease from 41 percent in 2016. Today’s release shows a 33 percent increase of sexual assault reports at the service academies. The Safe to Report Act seeks to reverse these alarming trends and stop the damage inflicted by such attacks on military readiness and retention by ensuring survivors are not unfairly penalized for having the courage to come forward and report an assault.

“The ongoing increase of sexual assault in our military is a national failure and disgrace, made more egregious by the steady decline in survivors of sexual assault feeling confident that there is a fair system in place,” said Rep. Speier. “This bill will address the culture of fear that breeds silence and prevents survivors from speaking out. The Department of Defense’s priority needs to be holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable, not dinging survivors for minor infractions like curfew violations. Our bill is based on a U.S. Air Force Academy program, which has increased reporting rates in their institution by putting the focus on holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes and delivering services and support to survivors, not re-victimizing them. It’s a no-brainer for us to build on the academy’s success and apply this model military-wide. I thank my colleagues from both Houses and both sides of the aisle for their staunch support.”

“Sexual assault rates continue to rise across the military, while victim reporting continues to fall,” said Rep. Bacon. “Urgent action is required to reverse these trends and the damage they inflict on military readiness, retention, and most importantly the lives of the victims. I dealt with this issue as a military commander and court martial convening authority, so I know from personal experience that fear of punishment for minor offenses prevents victims from reporting these crimes. We must ensure victims of sexual assault know we have their back if they have the courage to report it.”

“Despite assurances from the Pentagon and our military leaders, the data still shows the Department of Defense has failed to address unacceptable levels of military sexual assault,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This latest study illuminates a troubling fact—not only has the rate of military sexual assault increased in the past few years, but the significant increase in reports shows that the trend may be going in the wrong direction. We must believe survivors and the bipartisan Safe to Report Act will ensure that survivors can come forward without having to fear punishment for minor offenses. This is common sense legislation that respects survivors and will help stem the tide of military sexual assault.”

“This bipartisan bill would help provide a safe environment for our men and women in uniform to report instances of sexual assault without fear of retaliation or self-incrimination for minor violations. Survivors shouldn’t have to worry that a relatively insignificant offense might get them in trouble when reporting one of the most serious of crimes,” said Senator Grassley. “The Air Force Academy has already instituted similar policies, so there’s no reason the entire U.S. military shouldn’t also do its part to help end the epidemic of sexual violence in our armed forces.”

A copy of the House bill summary and the bill text can be found below.   

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