Protect Our Defenders News Blog


Speier, Brown, Cisneros, Crow, Escobar, Gallego, Haaland, Trahan Urge NDAA Conferees to Retain Provisions to Address Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, and Domestic Violence in the Military

Washington, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee; and Reps. Anthony Brown (MD-4), Vice Chair of the House Armed Service Committee; Gilbert R. Cisneros, Jr. (CA-39); Jason Crow (CO-6); Veronica Escobar (TX-16); Ruben Gallego (AZ-7); Deb Haaland (NM-1); and Lori Trahan (MA-3) led two letters urging the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to retain provisions addressing sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in the military in any conference agreement for the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The first letter, with 53 cosigners, advocates for retaining 10 sections of the House-passed NDAA (H.R.6395):

  • Establish a military-civilian task force on domestic violence and improve data collection about intimate-partner violence;
  • Create new military court protective orders to better safeguard victims, especially by improving enforceability across jurisdictions;
  • Improve coordination of support services for survivors of military sexual trauma;
  • Implement a military-wide “Safe to Report” policy so that survivors of sexual assault are not deterred from reporting by the threat of punishment for minor collateral misconduct, such as underage drinking;
  • Launch a pilot program to test a new model for prosecution of sexual assaults at the military service academies;
  • Require reporting to Congress on sexual assault investigations that take longer than 6 months;
  • Require reporting to Congress of sexual assault and harassment that occurs during the pre-accession medical examination process;
  • Establish a confidential reporting option for sexual harassment and expand the military’s Catch a Serial Offender Program to cover sexual harassment as well as sexual assault; and
  • Reform outdated military appellate procedures that disproportionately impact justice being served in sexual assault and child abuse cases.

The second letter, with 38 cosigners, provides a detailed rationale for creating a sexual assault prosecution pilot program at the military service academies. In 2017–18, 15.8% of female cadets and midshipmen and 2.4% of male cadets and midshipmen experienced unwanted sexual contact. The last 4 years of data show that the number of cadets and midshipmen experiencing unwanted sexual contact doubled, while reporting rates for sexual assault decreased from 16% in 2013–14 to 12% in 2017–18. Less than half of women indicated that they trusted their academy to protect their privacy, ensure their safety, or treat them with dignity and respect if they reported a sexual assault. This carefully designed pilot program would transfer authority to launch sexual assault investigations and initiate courts-martial from commanders—who know the involved parties, creating the potential for bias—to an independent chief prosecutor. It would also test whether ensuring independence over these crucial decisions would encourage survivors to report assaults and promote accountability for perpetrators.

“Despite spending nearly $1 billion over the past decade, our efforts to strengthen prevention and response are failing and the scourge of sexual violence continues to grow in our military, rotting it from the inside out,” Chair Speier said. “Military leadership has appeared in numerous congressional hearings and talked for years about change, but they continue to fail to produce results. Congress must act. While we still have much more to do, the proposals included in the House-passed FY 2021 NDAA represent a good start for supporting our brave servicemembers who risk their lives for our country, and it’s the very least we can do to protect them malign actions that have no place in our military. We call on the NDAA conferees to preserve these essential provisions in the final agreement.”

“Sexual assault, harassment, abuse and domestic violence have no place within the ranks of our military. Our service members rely on each other, to complete their missions and make it home safely. When one of their fellow soldiers violates that trust or leadership fails to act, that’s an institutional failure,” Vice Chair Brown said. “These provisions strengthen protections for our brave men and women in uniform. I urge their inclusion in the final package.”

“Sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence are serious issues in our Armed Forces. Enough is enough. Year after year, we see the same troubling data from DoD reflecting this pervasive problem,” Rep. Cisneros said. “Congress needs to enact real legislative fixes to protect all our servicemembers. I strongly urge the NDAA conferees to preserve provisions in the final NDAA bill to combat sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence in the military.”

“As a soldier, I remember going to basic training to learn everything from marksmanship to the chain of command. The military is supposed to train new recruits on the essential tasks of the job, but we still don’t do nearly enough to address sexual assault in the ranks. We need to make sure we are creating a system and culture of accountability in the military to protect our women and men in uniform. For too long, sexual assault and violence has gone unaddressed and it is with the utmost urgency that we pass these urgent reforms,” Rep. Crow said.

“The unspeakable tragedy of SPC Vanessa Guillen’s death has shed new light and revealed to the American public the epidemic of unchecked sexual harassment and assault that too many service members have suffered,” Congresswoman Veronica Escobar said. “We can’t continue failing those who bravely serve our nation. Congress must respond to this moment of reckoning with a strong FY21 NDAA that addresses this epidemic and protects victims.”

Sexual assault and domestic violence are major, recurring problems in our military. I am proud to have worked with Chairwoman Speier on the Military Personnel Subcommittee to bring these urgently needed and commonsense reforms to our armed forces into the House-passed FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, Rep. Gallego said. I look forward to working with the Senate to ensure that these measures survive Conference and make it into statute this year.

“Our servicemembers sacrifice so much to defend our Constitution and way of life.  Yet, too many of them suffer in silence from abuse. This is unacceptable.  We owe it to our military men and women to do everything we can to remove harmful predators within the ranks. I fully support these provisions; they help create a safe and dignified environment to serve in, and ensure our service members have access to fair and timely legal support, and compassionate mental and health care,” Rep. Haaland said.

“When young people step up to serve and protect our nation, they should have the reasonable expectation that they will be protected from abuse at the hands of their fellow servicemembers. Yet, sexual assault and domestic violence continue to plague every branch of the Armed Forces, and data shows the problem is getting worse,” Rep. Trahan said. It’s incumbent upon us to explore new ways to ensure that victims are getting the justice they deserve, including taking bold steps to reform the current military justice system. It is imperative that the final FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act include these commonsense provisions to better respond to instances of sexual assault and domestic violence and prevent them from happening in the future.”

Both letters can be found here and here.