Sexual violence in our Armed Forces is unacceptable and a threat to the women and men serving our country. Despite more than 25 years of Pentagon studies, task force recommendations, and congressional hearings, sexual violence continues to occur at alarming rates year after year. A 2008 Department of Veterans Affairs report found that nearly 100,000 female and male veterans experienced psychological trauma resulting from a physical sexual assault, battery, or sexual harassment while in the Armed Forces.
Tragically, the majority of these victims never come forward. One of the reasons is the reporting and military judicial system is woefully ill-structured to address these crimes. Currently, the Uniform Code of Military Justice requires victims to report crimes to their commander, rather than prosecutors or law enforcement agents. This precludes impartial decision-making and at best, creates a biased judicial system for both the victim and the accused. For those who are victimized by their commander, there is little hope for justice. The result is an alarmingly low rate of prosecuting sexual assailants, with only 8 percent referred for courts martial. The time has come to take the reporting, investigation, prosecution, and victim care out of the hands of the normal chain of command and establish an autonomous Sexual Assault and Response Office to oversee cases of sexual assault in our Armed Forces. That is why I am proud to cosponsor H.R.1593, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act and look forward to working across the aisle to pass this important legislation during the 113th Congress.