Washington, DC — U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) today introduced legislation to help fight sexual assault in the military by making it easier for service members to report crimes. The legislation aims to address the fact that many cases of sexual assault go unreported, often due to service members’ fear of retaliation or compromising their career. The Department of Defense estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were victims of unwanted sexual contact last year, with only 3,300 cases reported. The bill strengthens existing military whistleblower protection laws to ensure that victims of sexual crimes are protected from punishment for reporting sexual assault. Representative Jackie Walorski (R-IN) has introduced companion legislation in the House.

“Too often cases of sexual assault in the military go unreported because victims fear retribution or worry that reporting a crime may negatively impact their career,” Klobuchar said.“This bill strengthens our laws to make it easier for victims to pursue justice.”  

“We’ve seen that only a tiny portion of sexual assault survivors report what happened to them—sometimes due to fear of retaliation,” said McCaskill, a former county prosecutor and a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This problem will not change unless we create an environment where more men and women feel that they’re protected when reporting their assaults, and that’s exactly what this legislation aims to provide.”

The senators’ legislation would add sexual assault and other sexual misconduct offenses to the list of violations for which communications to members of Congress of the inspector general are protected. The bill also prohibits retaliatory action, and subjects any retaliatory action to DOD Inspector General investigation.

Klobuchar and McCaskill recently introduced legislation to strengthen sexual assault prevention programs after a spate of recent cases of sexual assault perpetrated by leaders of military sexual assault prevention programs. In addition, Klobuchar and McCaskill wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, urging the Department of Defense (DOD) to elevate the rank of the personnel assigned to lead sexual assault prevention and response programs in order to ensure their leadership is qualified and effective.

Klobuchar also recently introduced bipartisan legislation to crack down on sexual assault in the military. The Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act of 2013, introduced with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would revise the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to require the Secretary of Defense to retain restricted reports of sexual assault for at least 50 years. This removes the language that would have required that the report be retained only at the request of the filing service member, allowing for automatic retention of the reports. The bill also would establish preferred policy regarding the disposition of sexual assault cases through courts martial, and prohibit service in the Armed Forces by individuals previously convicted of a sexual offense. Earlier this year, Klobuchar received an award from the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) for her efforts to support military sexual assault victims. 

In recent years there has been an increase in reports of sexual assaults in the military. The Fiscal Year 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military report shows that the number of sexual assaults reported by members of the military rose from 3,192 to 3,374 in 2012, and the department estimates that as many as 26,000 service members have been victims of unwanted sexual contact, up from 19,300 estimated in 2010. It also reveals a 1.7% increase in active duty servicewomen experiencing unwanted sexual contact and a 6% increase in reported sexual assaults since 2010.