Mr. President, I rise today to speak on the National Defense Authorization Act and how the Senate and particularly the women of the Senate are working to address the crisis of military sexual assault. I'd like to thank Senator Mikulski and Senator Collins for organizing and bringing us together this morning. I'd like to thank Senator Levin and Inhofe for their leadership, and I'd like to thank Senator McCaskill and Senator Gillibrand for working on this critical legislation over the course of the past year. And of course, I'd like to thank all of the women of the Senate, you have heard from many of them this morning and we will hear from more because this is an incredible year, a year that I hope will be remembered as a decisive one in the effort to eradicate military sexual assault once and for all.

We are all too well aware that sexual assault continues to plague our armed forces. We have all seen the horrifying numbers. In 2012, the Department of Defense received 3,374 reports of sexual assaults in the military. But by the DOD's own estimates, 26,000 incidents of sexual assault actually took place during that period. That means that only 29%, a small fraction of all incidences, were actually reported. And even of the 3,374 reported offenses in 2012, only 880 faced command action for sex crimes. Of those 880, 594 faced court-martial and 302 of those court-martials resulted in convictions. So all in all, we have a situation in which 880 people faced any kind of discipline for a sex crime out of the universe of 26,000 potential incidents. That's only 3.4% of total incidents in which someone was held accountable and only 302, or 1.1%, were actually convicted of a crime. That is not a good set of numbers, Mr. President, and it sums up why this problem has been festering why we need action this year. 

But I think we also know that we're not all here because of the statistics. We're here because of real people. Because each and every one of the numbers is a personal story of grief and we know them all too well. Whether it was a sexual assault scandal last year at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas where a dozen or more basic training instructors were accused of sexually assaulting female trainees, or the more recent case at the air base in Italy where an Air Force general decided to reinstate a pilot without explanation, despite the fact that this pilot had been convicted of sexual assault charges in a court-martial by a jury of his peers. I think of Kimberly Wellnick from Mora, Minnesota, someone maybe not everyone has heard of. She served with the Marines in Iraq. In 2005, she was handcuffed to a bed and assaulted by a fellow Marine, her supervisor. She reported him. The end result? He was demoted in rank.

It's clear that we have so much more to do in addressing this pervasive problem. It doesn't just hurt our men and women in uniform. It undermines the integrity of our armed forces, the integrity of our country, and that's why we can't let it continue. I know that everyone in the Senate, and none more than the women in the Senate, want action to change this intolerable situation. And action is what we are going to get.

This year's Defense Authorization Act contains more than two dozen unprecedented reforms that will increase reporting of these crimes, provide support to victims, and help rebuild trust in the military's handling of sexual assaults. As a former prosecutor who ran an office of 400 people, I learned over time that the outcomes are incredibly important. But just as important is how people feel about how they are treated in the system.

Every year we did a survey of our victims of domestic abuse and of sexual assault, and one of the things that became clear over time, that just as important was how many months someone got in prison was whether or not the crime was explained to them, whether or not the process was explained to the victims, and whether or not the outcome was explained. We actually had people come back and say, I know that this case had to be dropped, or I know you couldn't bring charges in this case, but I felt -- this is a victim talking -- I felt that you treated me with respect and I understood that my case would still remain so that if another case came forward, my record would be there, my report would be there. And if the facts are better or if there was more evidence, you could go forward with it.

That has led me to get very involved way before this past year in the issues of record retention in the military on sexual assault reports. When I first got involved in this, we learned the shocking fact that many branches of the military were destroying the records, sometimes in one year, sometimes in five years. And that's why Senator Olympia Snowe and I got together and proposed changes to that system. We actually changed it so the records would be kept for decades. But the problem is that still in the law, despite two changes we have made over the years on this exact authorization act, the victim actually has to sign something and say they want the records retained. That would not happen in a civil court. Current law only requires retention of restricted reports and that's when a service member chooses not to take legal action at the request of the affected service member.

This might seem innocuous but it is not. It's a loophole allowing for the continuing destruction of records, making it harder for servicemen and women who've been sexually assaulted to get VA benefits for assault-related ailments or to seek justice in future. I did an event with a former Marine who literally her case couldn't be brought because she was a Marine, the records at the time were kept for five years. So when the perpetrator got out and raped two kids in California, that prosecutor in California was at least able to look at the records. Whether he could use them or not is somewhat immaterial. It simply helps to look at the records to know what happened and if there was a similar modus operandei.

A service member who's been through a sexual assault should not be forced to make a far-reaching decision on whether his or her report on a crime would be detained or not. That's what's happening right now. This will ensure that all reports are stored in a secure and private manner for at least 50 years. It also contains a provision of my bill that substantiated sexual assaults be noted in personnel records. This will help ensure that commanders are aware of potential repeat offenders.

And it contains the language from my Military Assault Prevention Act and I thank Senator Murkowski for her support of this which expresses the sense of the senate that charges of rape, sexual assault or attempts to commit these offenses should be disposed of by court-martial rather than by nonjudicial punishment or administrative action. We want offenders to be convicted and punished, not just given a slap on the wrist by commanders or allowed to shrink away without a -- slink away without a discharge.

This year's NDAA also includes legislation that I introduced with Senator McCaskill, who's with us here today, to add sexual assault and charges to the list of protected communications that can be investigated by the DOD inspector general. This is expanded whistle-blower protection that will help ensure that service members are able to report sexual assault crimes without facing retaliation.

These are just a few of the provisions addressing sexual assault in this bill. We also know that this bill does so much -- I see Senator Murray is here -- focused on victims' rights and treating our victims with the respect that they deserve. Our country is fortunate that we have so many selfless servicemen and women who volunteer to serve their country. When they raise their hands to serve, we take on a responsibility to provide them the means to accomplish their mission and to ensure that they don't have to worry about what's going on behind the frontline. Sexual assault in the military betrays that responsibility. If in the course of their service our servicemen and women experience an assault that our military failed to prevent, then we owe them the basic decency of justice. I look forward to working on and passing this bill with my colleagues so that we can protect our service members once and for all. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.