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Shaheen stresses serious impact on sexual assault on military readiness and cohesion during Senate Armed Services hearing

(Washington, D.C.) —Continuing her efforts to end military sexual assault, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen today questioned top military leaders during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on their plans to address the sexual assault crisis in the United States Armed Forces. The hearing featured the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Crops, Air Force, and Coast Guard who testified on the rising rate of sexual assaults in the military and the necessary reforms to address this issue.

"When our courageous men and women put on a uniform to protect our country, they deserve the best possible treatment and protection that our nation can provide. The alarming reports of sexual assault in our Armed Forces demonstrate that we are not living up to our responsibilities in that respect," Shaheen said. “It is beyond time to take action. Today's hearing is an important step in furthering our efforts to address this issue and I am hopeful that we take meaningful steps to wipe out this pattern of abuse and make sure our servicemembers receive the protection they deserve.”

Shaheen specifically spoke during the hearing about bipartisan legislation she has introduced with Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) that would change the way the Pentagon designates sexual assault prevention officers, adding a new level of accountability and scrutiny to the position after multiple Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) officers were reportedly accused of sexual assault in recent weeks.  Under the legislation, SAPR officers would become a more prominent position in the military requiring more rigorous screening and certification.

The Shaheen bill has received support from members on both sides of the aisle as well as from top military officials. General James Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and General Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, both indicated their support for this proposal during the hearing today.

Shaheen also pressed General Martin Dempsey, Chairman on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on possible reforms to the military chain of command to help improve oversight over cases of sexual assault. Shaheen has co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that would reform the military justice system by removing the prosecution of sexual assault and other serious crimes out of the chain of command and giving discretion to experienced military prosecutors.

Shaheen expanded on the seriousness of the problem by asking witnesses to discuss how instances of sexual assault that go unpunished or unreported impact unit morale and cohesion, especially as the United States military sees more women joining the ranks. General Odierno acknowledged that the issue gets to “the very fabric of who we are,” and said that for military operations to be successful servicemembers must trust and rely on one another. To that point, Shaheen emphasized that sexual abuse not only impacts our men and women in uniform, but also has a significant effect on military readiness and efficacy.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Shaheen has been a leader in fighting the crisis of sexual abuse in our Armed Forces and has worked extensively to provide care and services to victims. In addition to the legislation she has introduced and supported, she has repeatedly relayed her serious concerns to leaders at the White House and the Pentagon, and has spoken out consistently on the issue, including during appearances today on MSNBC and CNN.