Washington, DC – Two amendments introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, to address the military’s handling of sexual harassment and missing persons cases in light of the harassment suffered by SPC Vanessa Guillén prior to her disappearance and her subsequent murder were passed Tuesday as part of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
Chair Speier’s bipartisan amendments require the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish a confidential reporting process for sexual harassment, with those reports being included in the DOD’s Catch a Serial Offender program; and require the U.S. Government Accountability Office to report on the military’s procedures to respond to missing servicemembers.
“#IamVanessaGuillen has become a rally cry for servicemember survivors speaking out about the harassment and assault they’ve endured at the hands of their brothers and sisters in arms. Many are speaking out for the first time about the injustice and indignity not only of the abuse they suffered, but also of the military’s failure to hold assailants and harassers accountable. My amendments address two issues laid bare by Vanessa’s plight, and that of too many other servicemembers, but we will not stop here,” Chair Speier said. “I want her family and our brave servicemembers to know that I will not rest until we have taken all the steps needed to ensure justice and accountability are achieved and that Vanessa’s memory and courage are honored accordingly. In the coming days, I will introduce comprehensive legislation to overhaul how victims can report harassment and how they will be investigated and prosecuted. That includes removing sexual harassment and assault prosecutions from the chain of command and making sexual harassment punishable as a specific offense within the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Another amendment introduced by Chair Speier and that was passed as part of the defense bill requires the directs the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, to create a plan to double the percentage of women in the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program within 10 years of enactment to roughly 16% of the foreign program participants. Additionally, the amendment requires the Secretaries to submit interim reports every two years (up until 10 years) on progress made toward the goal, which should include the most recent data on female participation.
A fourth amendment, also bipartisan, would modify the standard by which military appellate courts conduct factual sufficiency review in criminal appeals. The current standard, which is unique among appellate courts in the United States, has allowed sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse cases to be overturned on highly dubious grounds, and the proposed standard would yield greater likelihood of justice for survivors while maintaining due process protections.
Those amendments are in addition to nearly two dozen major provisions offered by Chair Speier and adopted during consideration of the annual defense policy bill by the Armed Services Committee earlier this month. The earlier provisions include:
- Authorizing a System of Military Court Protective Orders: Allowing military judges and magistrates to issue court protective orders compliant with the Violence Against Women Act. The new judicial orders provide better protection and enforceability for servicemembers and family members experiencing intimate partner violence.
- Initiating a Sexual Assault Prosecution Pilot Program at the Military Service Academies: A 4-year test of a new Chief Prosecutor would demonstrate whether assigning charging decisions for sexual assault and other special victims’ crimes to an independent expert outside of the chain of command would increase the willingness of survivors to report and the ability of the military justice system to hold perpetrators accountable.
- Establishing a Special Inspector General for Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Armed Forces: A dedicated office to investigate underrepresentation of people of color among military officers and high-ranking enlisted servicemembers, racial disparities within the military justice system, and white supremacy among servicemembers.
Increasing Representation of Women and People of Color in the Armed Services: The military would be required to establish specific goals to increase recruiting, accessions, and promotion of minorities and women, and to report to Congress on a plan to achieve these goals and their progress.
- Addressing Bias by Anonymizing Candidates Before Military Promotion Boards: Redact all personally identifiable information, such as names and photographs, of servicemembers before promotion boards to remove the potential for conscious or unconscious bias.
- Making Violent Extremism a Military Crime: A new article within the Uniform Code of Military Justice would bring greater consequences to servicemembers who perpetrate, plan, threaten, or conspire to commit violent acts with intent to intimidate or coerce a person or class of people, or the intent to impact government action or policy.
- Tracking White Supremacy among Servicemembers: The military services would be required to improve tracking of white-supremacist and other extremist activity by servicemembers.
- Establishing a Military-Civilian Task Force on Domestic Violence: The task force would report to Congress with findings and recommendations to address intimate partner violence among servicemembers and military families, and DoD would be required to collect data on the prevalence of intimate partner violence.
- Establishing a Military-wide Safe-to-Report Policy: Clarify that servicemembers may report sexual assault without fear of being disciplined for related minor collateral misconduct such as drinking in the barracks.
- Improving Coordination for Survivors of Sexual Trauma: Ensure a warm handoff for survivors when relocating between stations within the military or when separating from the military and transferring from service providers within DoD to resources within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Improving Oversight of Military Sexual Assault Investigations: Require DoD to report to Congress all military sexual assault investigations that remain open more than 6 months along with the reasons for the delay.
- Improving Oversight of Next Generation Body Armor: Require DoD to report on barriers to fielding next generation body armor that will provide better, gender-specific protection for military servicemembers.
- Expanding Child Care Options for Military Families: Address waiting lists, establish competitive pay for providers in high-cost areas, provide housing priority for military spouses that operate Family Care Centers, and expand the Financial Assistance Program to pay for in-home child care, such as by a nanny or au pair. Additionally, it requires 24-hour child care be provided on bases where servicemembers are required to work night shifts.
- Improving Oversight of the Next Generation Interceptor Missile Defense Program: Require an independent cost estimate and two successful flight tests before buying.
Requiring Transparency of Contractor Ownership: Expand reporting requirements to identify the beneficial owner of contractors.
- Strengthening Whistleblower Protections: Clarify that nondisclosure agreements do not prevent employees of government contractors and subcontractors from filing a whistleblower complaint.
- Examining Equal Employment Opportunity: Require the Department of Defense to report on ways to improve the EEO process for DoD civilians.
Enacting the Elijah Cummings Federal Employee Anti-Discrimination Act: Strengthen EEO protections and increase accountability for federal employees who are found to be responsible for discrimination.
- Authorizing Incentive Pay for Programming Proficiency: Develop a system to track coding language aptitude and proficiency by military servicemembers and DoD civilians and offer financial incentives for needed programming skills.
- Investigating Suicide at Remote Military Installations: Require a Comptroller General report covering unique challenges of preventing suicide by military servicemembers and military family members at remote bases outside of the contiguous United States.
- Examining Access to Contraception and Family Planning Education. Require DoD to issue a report on barriers experienced by servicemembers in accessing contraception and the status of implementation of new DoD requirements on reproductive health care, such as ensuring access to contraception for the full length of deployment.