WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo counties) released the following statement about the new report by Human Rights Watch detailing the scope and severity of retaliation against U.S. military servicemembers who report a sexual assault. The report found that survivors of sexual assault were usually punished for speaking up, with devastating impacts for their health, careers, and safety, and “was unable to uncover more than two examples of even minor disciplinary action being taken against persons who retaliated against a survivor.”
“This report shines a stark light on what I have heard from countless survivors,” said Speier. “Victims who report a sexual assault are punished for speaking out at a shocking rate, with little to no recourse.
“According to this new report, the retaliation that survivors face is pervasive, and it is severe. Survivors reported detailed threats of violence, being forced to pick up garbage, criminal prosecution, and losing their careers—all for reporting a criminal offense. In fact, servicemembers who report a sexual assault are twelve times more likely to be retaliated against than to see their perpetrator brought to justice.
“Most disturbingly, this report highlights the military’s consistent failure to hold those who retaliate against survivors accountable. According to Human Rights Watch, since 2004, not a single case of retaliation against sexual assault survivors has been substantiated by the Inspector General. Meanwhile, reporting to the Inspector General may actually spark further retaliation. This traps victims in a Catch-22. Either they suffer in silence, or they make a report that will lead nowhere and may very well spell the end of their careers.
“In such a chilling environment, it is no wonder that over three-quarters of victims never report an assault, leaving perpetrators in the ranks and free to reoffend.
“Rather than focusing its efforts on addressing retaliation, the Department of Defense has instead simply labeled retaliation as ‘perceived.’ These claims are deeply offensive and do nothing but blame the victim and abdicate the military’s responsibilities, leaving survivors to be revictimized by the very systems that should bring them justice.
“Earlier this year, I introduced the Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act to strengthen protections for whistleblowers, such as sexual assault survivors, who make a protected communication. Further, over the past several years, I have continuously introduced legislation to remove these cases from the biased chain of command, which all too often retaliates against survivors.
“The men and women who protect our country deserve support, protection, and justice when they take the brave step to come forward and report a sexual assault. It is past time to ensure that they have access to rigorous whistleblower protections and a fair military justice system.”