August 2, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Jackie Speier (D- San Francisco/San Mateo), along with 52 members of the House of Representatives, have formally requested a hearing in the House Armed Services Committee on military sexual assault and the chain of command. In a bi-partisan letter to Rep. Buck McKeon, Chairman, and Rep. Adam Smith, Ranking Member, Rep. Speier and the letter’s co-signers call chain of command the central issue to reforming how the military treats sexual assault cases.

“While the Senate has taken up this discussion in a hearing, the House has failed to do so,” says Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee. “If we are committed to investigating – and ultimately addressing – this serious issue, there is no good reason to avoid an open debate. Even those that disagree with taking sexual assault out of the chain of command should welcome the opportunity to present their views. After speaking with hundreds of survivors, legal experts, and experts in the United Kingdom that have taken this out of the chain of command, I am convinced that there cannot be justice until we take this out of the chain of command.”

“It’s clear that we need to reform the way the military handles sexual assault cases,” says Rep. Dan Benishek (MI-01), a medical doctor from the Upper Peninsula and father of a Navy veteran. “That’s why I have joined with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand to offer a bipartisan solution that addresses this epidemic of sexual assaults in the military. Victims in Northern Michigan and across the country have told me they believe sexual assault cases should be handled by independent military prosecutors. I encourage the House Armed Services Committee to conduct a hearing to examine how reforming the military justice system could help protect the brave men and women who protect our nation.”

Earlier this year, Congresswoman Speier reintroduced H.R. 1593, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Protection Act (STOP Act), to create an impartial office within the military to handle cases of rape and sexual assault outside of the chain of command. The bill has 148 co-sponsors.

According to the latest report from the Sexual Assault Prevention And Response Office (SAPRO) at the Department of Defense, there were an estimated 26,000 incidents of sexual assault in the military last year, up from 19,000 in 2011. Only 9.8% of victims ever report the crimes, however, down from 13.5% in 2011. Overall, nearly 2/3 of victims who reported sexual assaults say they experienced some form retaliation.

“These statistics have a chilling effect on reporting and send the clear message to victims of these crimes that the chances that their perpetrator will be brought to justice is slight,” the letter states.

The full letter can be viewed here.