Thursday, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) released the following statements after the United States Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which includes their bipartisan legislation to provide victims of sexual assault in all military branches with a Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) – a trained and certified military lawyer to assist victims throughout the legal process. The defense bill, which passed the Senate by a vote of 84-15, also includes dozens of major reforms to protect and support victims of sexual assault, boost prosecutions, and hold military commanders accountable.
“Today we have taken a major, unprecedented step toward finally eliminating the plague of sexual assault in our nation’s military,” said Senator Murray. “Thanks to the voices of countless victims, the work of thousands of advocates, and the bipartisan cooperation of my colleagues, we have shone a light on an issue that for too long has left so many of our nation’s heroes in the shadows. I’d especially like to thank Senator Ayotte for her partnership as we worked to enact this reform, which truly gets at the heart of effectively addressing the tragic epidemic facing our men and women in uniform. I look forward to President Obama’s signature on this legislation and in the coming months will work closely with Secretary Hagel and the incoming Director of the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office, Major General Jeffrey Snow, to ensure swift implementation of our legislation.”
“Providing sexual assault victims with their own military lawyer takes a major step toward empowering victims and making sure they get the guidance they need,” said Senator Ayotte. “The special victims’ counsel provision will help encourage victims to come forward to seek justice, and it will help ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their crimes. I appreciated the opportunity to work with Senator Murray on this bipartisan measure, which is part of a broad package of reforms to address sexual assault in our military.”
In August, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed immediate implementation of several measures to “gain greater consistency of effort and enhance oversight, investigative quality, pretrial investigations and victim support” in cases of military sexual assault. Among other measures, the directive includes implementation of a special victims’ advocacy program to assist sexual assault victims in all branches through the legal process, similar to the legislation introduced by Senators Murray and Ayotte.
Senators Murray and Ayotte have worked for much of the year to advance legislation to prevent sexual assaults in the military. Last month, Senators Murray and Ayotte joined a bipartisan group of female Senators on the floor to speak out against sexual assault in the military and call on their colleagues to support some of the historic changes being made to prevent this scourge.