A Bay Area congresswoman today re-introduced a bipartisan bill to overhaul how the military handles rape and sexual-assault cases.
Rep. Jackie Speier said her Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act is necessary in part because a half million U.S. veterans are survivors of military sexual trauma and an estimated 19,000 rapes or sexual assaults occur in the armed services every year, yet only about 13.5 percent are ever reported.
“The epidemic of military rape and sexual assault is a damning indictment of the military judicial system’s treatment of these cases,” Speier, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “True justice demands impartiality which is absent in a system that relies on individual commanders who have no legal expertise to determine which assailants get prosecuted and which go free. Instead of commanders making decisions about guilt or innocence, no matter how senior, an independent military office of trained experts should determine how these cases are treated.”
The STOP Act would take the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command and put it in the hands of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office, housed in the military and staffed by both civilian and military personnel.
“Victims of rape and sexual assault should not have to choose between career-ending retaliation and seeking judicial action against their attackers,” Speier said. “In 2011, only eight percent of sexual assailants were referred to courts martial, or military court, compared with 40 percent of similar offenders prosecuted in the civilian court system. If they believed that their perpetrator would be prosecuted, convicted, and punished, it would be worth it to come forward.”
“The STOP Act creates the fair judicial system that our service members deserve, one that relies on the facts of the case not the whims of a commander.”
The bill’s 83 original cosponsors include Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton; George Miller, D-Martinez; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa.
It’s also supported by national advocacy groups including Protect Our Defenders, American Association of University Women, National Council of Jewish Women, Feminist Majority, and the makers and followers of the documentary “Service: When Women Come Marching Home.”
“We applaud Republicans and Democrats for coming together to protect our service men and women,” Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, said in a news release. “Fundamental changes are urgently needed. This crisis, this national embarrassment has gone on far too long.”