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Bonamici Backs Bill to Strengthen Prosecution of Military Sexual Assault

May 17, 2013
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) today announced her support for the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, new bipartisan legislation that would reform the military justice system. The Act would remove from the chain of command the prosecution of crimes punishable by a sentence of more than one year, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, like disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave. This reform would prevent injustices related to military sexual assault and other forms of misconduct.

“More than 1 in 5 female servicemembers experience unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military,” said Bonamici. “It’s unconscionable and those responsible need to be held accountable. The Military Justice Improvement Act would give all servicemembers who are victims of sexual assault the ability to take legal action without fear of retribution from their chain of command. It’s time to send a clear message that sexual assault in the military is unacceptable and will not be allowed to continue.”

According to the FY2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) report released last week by the Defense Department, an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact occurred in FY2012, a 37 percent increase from FY2011. Meanwhile, overall rates of reporting dropped from 13.5 percent in 2011 to 9.8 percent in 2012. In 2011, victims reported 3,192 out of 19,000 incidents, compared to 2012, where victims reported just 3,374 out of 26,000 incidents. Although the number of perpetrators convicted of committing sexual assault increased from 191 in 2011 to 238 in 2012, the conviction rate dropped from 1 percent in 2011 to 0.9 percent in 2012.

Bonamici is also a co-sponsor of legislation with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA). H.R. 3435, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act – or STOP Act—would take the reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the military’s normal chain of command and place jurisdiction in a new, autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office comprised of civilian and military experts.

Additionally, Bonamici is a co-sponsor H.R. 671, the Ruth Moore Act, with Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). This bill would require the VA to make explicit changes to policies concerning Military Sexual Trauma disability claims. The bill would allow a veteran's testimony, along with a diagnosis and statement of medical connection from a mental health professional, as proof that a military sexual assault took place for purposes of qualifying for VA benefits. The change is needed because many victims of sexual assault never report it and therefore have trouble proving their eligibility for VA benefits.