Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a series of measures aimed at preventing sexual assault in the armed forces and tackling what military leaders have described as a “crisis” of confidence in the justice system that prevents victims coming forward.
Hagel said: “All of these measures will provide victims additional rights, protections, and legal support, and help ensure that sexual assault-related investigations and judicial proceedings are conducted thoroughly and professionally.”
Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) released the following statements in response to the memo.
“I applaud the proactive steps Secretary Hagel is taking today to do right by our nation’s heroes and begin the process of tackling this scourge within the ranks,” said Murray. “Our legislation to provide victims with a dedicated legal counsel absolutely gets to the heart of effectively addressing the tragic epidemic of sexual assault in our military and I was pleased to see Secretary Hagel has put priority on its implementation. Providing legal advocates for victims is a major step forward in reversing this awful trend and establishing the necessary means for these men and women to take action against their attackers through what is a deeply personal and painful process. While these measures are by no means a silver bullet, it is inexcusable for us to wait any longer to address this issue and I’m glad Secretary Hagel understands these actions are long overdue.”
“It’s encouraging that the Department of Defense is taking steps to implement these reforms immediately, rather than waiting for them to become law,” said Ayotte. “The actions announced today will provide greater protections to victims, increase reporting, and result in more prosecutions – and they represent a significant step forward as we continue efforts to stop sexual assault in the military.”
Among other measures, the directive includes implementation of trained lawyers to provide victims in all branches with guidance through the legal process, similar to legislation introduced by Senators Murray and Ayotte.
Last month, the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee approved $25 million to fully fund the Murray-Ayotte Special Victims Counsels (SVCs) program. The House of Representatives has also approved full funding for this program in their Department of Defense spending legislation.
In May, Senators Murray and Ayotte introduced the bipartisan Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, which has been included in the pending National Defense Authorization Act. The SVC program is based on a successful pilot program currently implemented in the Air Force.