Tragically it was the story of Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach who brought this issue to my attention. She grew up in Dayton, OH and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Maria was honorably serving her country when she was sexually assaulted by a senior enlisted member in her unit. She then was forced to serve with her assailant for the following eight months before he attacked and killed her and her unborn child and buried them in his backyard. This tragedy did not have to occur, and sadly we have seen time and again that it is all too common. The terrible lesson of Maria’s story is what has helped to shape this legislation.
Recent studies have revealed that as many as 1 in 3 women leaving military service report that they have experienced some form of Military Sexual Trauma. In fact, by the Pentagon’s own estimate, as few as 13.5 percent of sexual assaults are reported. Additionally, while 40 percent of sexual assault allegations in the civilian world are prosecuted, this number is a staggeringly low 8 percent in the military.
I was proud that we on the House Armed Services Committee were successful in including in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) several provisions which have started to combat this issue. That language required the Department of Defense to develop a comprehensive plan to address sexual assault prevention and response and submit it to Congress. Additional language in last year’s NDAA mandated that the Defense Department implement minimum standards for training of Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Victim Advocates and required the examination of the feasibility of providing a military lawyer to all victims of sexual assault.
The Defense STRONG Act builds upon those provisions we were able to include in the NDAA. Among its main points, the legislation would provide victims with the right to legal counsel, the right to a base transfer, maintain confidentiality when speaking with Victim Advocates, and provide greater training for sexual assault prevention and response at every level of our armed services. All of which are points where Maria’s story highlighted shortcomings in our current system.
The provisions in the Defense STRONG Act would also address many of the findings contained in Department of Defense’s 2009 Task Force Report on Sexual Assault. The Task Force stated that victims of sexual assault in the military express a lack of protection and support once an assault has occurred. The report also found that Victim Advocates, who are assigned to provide support for victims, receive very little training and have little experience in dealing with these offenses.
None of our brave men and women in uniform should ever have happen to them what happened to Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach. This legislation will begin to put in place protections and rights that were never afforded to Maria. I am glad to be working on a bipartisan basis with my fellow Armed Services Committee members as we seek to preserve and enhance the rights of those affected by sexual assault.