Congress Tries Again to Protect Survivors of Military Rape

Congress is challenging top brass' the handling of sexual assault.The statistics on sexual assault in the U.S. military speak volumes. Nearly one in three servicewomen are raped while serving, twice the rate of the general population. Nearly 90 percent don’t report the assaults, however, and the few cases that get reported are rarely prosecuted. A year after the documentary The Invisible War drew widespread attention to the tangled bureaucracy survivors go through to get justice, Congress is once again addressing the situation.

The Military Justice Improvement Act, introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), will go up for a vote as early as this coming week. A part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, the bill will give sexual assault cases to independent military prosecutors trained in handling sexual assault. Currently, survivors have to report sexual assaults to their superiors in the chain of command, which is often problematic. Commanders usually lack the training to handle such cases, and may know the alleged perpetrators personally—or even be perpetrators themselves.

Congress is also working on a measure to protect survivors from prying questions about their personal lives during preliminary Article 32 hearings. The measure, introduced in the House last Wednesday, intends to shift the focus of those hearings to determining whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed. (The Senate introduced a similar measure last week, which may increase the bill’s chance of passing.) Says Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.),

[The Article 32 hearings have been] used as technique by the defense to so demean and brutalize the victim that [victims] tend to drop the charges altogether.

She referenced the hearing of a Naval Academy midshipman who said she was raped by three classmates at a party. She was questioned for 30 hours over a few days, asked by the defense such questions as “if she wore panties on dates and how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex.”

The Feminist Majority Foundation encourages you to email your senators to encourage them to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act.

Photo of U.S. military generals testifying in July against moving sexual assault cases out of the chain of command  from Flickr user Madhu babu pandi under license from Creative Commons 2.0