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SHAHEEN DEMANDS IMMEDIATE ACTION TO FIGHT SEXUAL ASSAULT IN MILITARY

Attends White House meeting on sexual assault, urges expedited review of DOD procedures

May 9, 2013

(Washington, DC) –U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) called on the Department of Defense (DOD) to take immediate action to reform how the military investigates and prosecutes charges of sexual assault.  Shaheen, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, sent a letter today to the Congressionally-mandated panel charged with reviewing all DOD sexual assault laws and procedures as well as the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) following her meeting with White House officials on the same topic.

In her letter to the Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, Shaheen called on members to expedite their analysis so that Congress may consider any potential recommendations during this year’s National Defense Authorization.  The independent panel was “designed to provide independent perspective on the shortcomings of our current system and ensure accountability for its improvement.”

“This week the department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) released a damning report suggesting that the number of sexual assault cases has risen dramatically in the past two years, despite DOD’s ‘zero tolerance policy,’” Shaheen said in the letter.  “In addition, recent reports of a sexual assault conviction being overturned at Aviano Air Force Base and the appalling allegations against the chief of the U.S. Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team make clear that our military is facing an immediate and growing crisis, which requires a renewed sense of urgency.”

Shaheen has worked extensively to combat sexual assault in the military, including ensuring appropriate care and services for survivors.  Recently, she joined Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) calling on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to release detailed information regarding the Air Force’s decision to overturn an aggravated sexual assault conviction of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson.  In response, Secretary Hagel conducted an internal review before announcing he would seek changes to the military’s legal process.

Last year, Shaheen led the fight to repeal a discriminatory policy preventing female service members who were victims of rape or incest from receiving the same health care coverage as the civilians they protect. The amendment, which brings the Department of Defense’s reproductive health care polices in line with federal standards, passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law last December.  The Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) honored Shaheen last month for her work to eliminate sexual discrimination and sexual violence in the military.

“We cannot wait this long to address the scourge of sexual assault and the process by which we are prosecuting this crime,” Shaheen added.

The full text of the letter is below:

May 9, 2013

To:          The Honorable Elizabeth Holtzman, Former U.S. Representative, NY 16th District

James Houck, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Judge Barbara Jones, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Ret.)

David Lisak, Ph.D.

Colleen McGuire, brigadier general, U.S. Army (Ret.)

Melinda Dunn, brigadier general, U.S. Army (Ret.),

Harvey Bryant, Commonwealth's Attorney of Virginia Beach

Holly O’Grady Cook, colonel, U.S. Army (Ret.),

Professor Elizabeth Hillman, Hastings Law School

CC:         The Honorable Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense


Dear Members of the “Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel”: 

I write today with respect to the ongoing need to address the crisis of sexual assault within our military.  Recent events have underscored the need for significant reforms of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of these crimes.  To that end, I urge your panel to make every effort possible to expedite its work.  We cannot afford to wait.

This week the department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office released a damning report suggesting that the number of sexual assault cases has risen dramatically in the past two years, despite DOD’s “zero tolerance” policy.  In addition, recent reports of a sexual assault conviction being overturned at Aviano Air Force Base and the appalling allegations against the chief of the U.S. Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team make clear that the U.S. military is facing an immediate and growing crisis, which requires a renewed sense of urgency.   

As you know, in section 576 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, Congress established a federal advisory committee to review and assess all systems related to investigation and prosecution of sexual assault under article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  The “Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel,” as it is known, was designed to provide independent perspective on the shortcomings of our current systems and ensure accountability for their improvement.

The work of this panel is critically important. However, its scheduled timeline does not reflect the urgency of the current situation.  For example, the panel is not expected to hold its first meeting until July 1st and not expected to produce a final report for another 18 months.  As my colleagues and I on the Senate Armed Services Committee are likely to consider changes to the UCMJ during consideration of this year’s FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act, I would urge you, to the extent possible, to expedite your work so that we may benefit from your expertise and recommendations.

As Secretary Hagel has said, “Sexual assault has no place in the United States military,” and “the American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior.”  I agree, but the change in culture with respect to sexual assault will require more than education and awareness training.  Our military’s leadership must instill a sense of urgency that sexual assault is not only a crime that requires punishment; it undermines the foundation of our armed forces.  I know you share our concerns and appreciate your willingness to serve.  I trust you will also see the benefit of expediting this critical task. 

We understand that all nine members of your panel have now been appointed.  I congratulate you on your selection and look forward to working with you.  I stand ready to offer any assistance necessary to accomplish this effort. 

Thank you for your consideration and your service on behalf of all of our men and women in uniform.

Sincerely,

 

Jeanne Shaheen

U.S. Senator

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