House lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill that strengthens whistleblower protections for sexual assault victims in the military.
The legislation would ensure that victims of sexual violence in the armed services have the same rights as other military whistleblowers by requiring inspectors general to investigate allegations of retaliation against personnel who report sexual assault. It would expand the current language of the statute related to protected communications and prohibition of retaliation against service members (Title 10, Section 1034 of the U.S. Code) from “sexual harassment” to also include “rape, sexual assault, or other sexual misconduct.”
The bill is timely. The Pentagon this week released a study on the military’s long-standing problem of failing to prevent or properly handle sexual assault among its ranks, just days after Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, the Air Force official in charge of its sexual-assault prevention program, was arrested for groping a woman in Virginia.
Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., who introduced the legislation with California Democrat Loretta Sanchez, participated in a White House meeting on Thursday to discuss the bill and ways to root out sexual violence in the military and encourage more victims to report assaults. “Today’s meeting was a necessary step toward strategizing a bipartisan approach to pass legislation that protects our service members and eradicates this frightening situation,” Walorski said.
President Obama on Tuesday said members of the military who commit sexual assaults are “betraying the uniform that they’re wearing” and demanded action from Defense Department officials. “This is not what the U.S. military is about, and it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity,” Obama said during a joint press conference with South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye.
Defense estimates that allegations of sexual assault are vastly underreported within the military. The latest study found that the number of incidents of unwanted sexual contact in the military had increased to an estimated 26,000 in fiscal 2012, but only 3,374 sexual assault reports were filed during that time.
“It is absolutely necessary that this problem of leadership and climate be addressed immediately; if not, the health and strength of this nation’s military will deteriorate,” Sanchez said in a statement about the allegations surrounding Lt. Col. Krusinski.