Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar today issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Department of Defense’s proposed rules to combat sexual assault in the military. Klobuchar authored legislation, signed into law last year, ensuring long-term preservation of sexual assault victims’ records, which can help veterans seek medical and disability assistance and pursue justice. The bipartisan bill was cosponsored by all 17 women members of the Senate.
“As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is to have strong policies in place to help sexual assault victims pursue justice,” Klobuchar said.“That’s why I worked to pass legislation that will ensure victims’ records are not destroyed, and these new rules will help build on this effort to support survivors and prosecute offenders. I will continue to press the Department of Defense to strengthen support for victims of sexual assault in the military.”
Until Klobuchar’s legislation was passed there was no coordinated policy across the U.S. service branches to ensure the preservation of medical and other reports connected with sexual trauma. Each service branch was left to develop its own policy, resulting in inconsistent recordkeeping and frequent destruction of records. Long-term preservation of records can help a victim seek medical and disability assistance, and certain records can also be used as evidence in a later crime involving the same perpetrator.
In recent years there has been an increase in reports of sexual assaults in the military. According to the Department of Defense, there were 3,192 official reports of sexual assaults in the military in 2011. Because most incidents are not reported to a military authority, the Pentagon estimates this number represents only 13 to 14 percent of total assaults – making the total estimated number of sexual assaults in the military over 19,000 in 2011.
Research has shown that sexual trauma not only hurts the victims, but can also take a toll on their fellow servicemembers by severely undermining unit cohesion, morale, and overall force effectiveness.
Klobuchar’s Support for Survivors Act, much of which was included in the National Defense Authorization Act, will:
· Require the Department of Defense to develop a policy to ensure the preservation of documents connected with reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.
· Ensure full privacy and identity protection for both the victim and the perpetrator, if known.
· Grant the VA access to documents only at the request of a servicemember, for the purpose of assisting with the processing of a disability compensation claim.
· Allow the Department of Defense to review the data (but not the names of the individuals mentioned in the reports) to improve research and reporting.
Klobuchar’s efforts to support military sexual assault victims have been supported by the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, and the Wounded Warrior Project. The Support for Survivors Act was also endorsed by the Service Women’s Action Network.