Addressing the Military's Sexual Assault Problem

By Dan Lipinski  
Crain's Chicago Business
We have the finest military in the world, an elite group of men and women who continue to be a tremendous source of national pride by routinely putting their lives on the line to protect our freedom. But it has become apparent that there is a troubling problem in our military with sexual assaults and especially with the way in which victims of these assaults are treated.
A recent Pentagon report estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2011, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel, according to the Associated Press.
While the number of sexual assaults actually reported by members of the military rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012, thousands of victims were unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs, the Pentagon report says.
Less than 10 percent of reported cases ended with conviction at court-martial proceedings; the majority resulted in inadequate administrative punishments or dismissal.
In response to these reports, earlier this year I got together with a small, bipartisan group of members—Reps. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, Jackie Speier of California and Vicky Hartzell of Missouri—to consider how the military could better address this issue. We came up with HR 1986, the SANE Deployment Act.
This bill would require each branch of the military to provide at least one professionally trained sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) for each Army brigade. The SANE would be available to collect evidence during the critical early stages of any sexual assault investigation and provide physical and mental care for victims.
This attention to detail and sensitive approach to sexual assault investigations has been the standard in the law enforcement and medical fields for years. It is clear that our military should do the same.
Recently in the House Armed Services Committee, Ms. Speier offered an amendment to the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act based on the bill we had introduced. The amendment was adopted by the committee and will be part of the bill when it comes to the House floor this week. It is expected that the bill will pass and we will begin to work to make sure the Senate includes the same language in its bill later this year.
Sexual assaults in the military are part of a complex problem that will not be easily solved, but the provisions of the SANE Deployment Act can be a piece of the solution by empowering more sexual assault victims and punishing the offenders so all of our women and men in the military can serve confidently, without the fear of being attacked.
I believe the greatest military in the world is up to the challenge, giving us one more reason to be proud.