WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the House of Representatives passed the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes funding and sets policy for the Department of Defense. The bill included significant provisions authored by Congressman Mike Turner (R-OH) and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (D-MA), co-chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, to combat military sexual assault.
Earlier this year, Tsongas and Turner introduced the Furthering Accountability and Individual Rights within the Military Act of 2014 (FAIR Military Act), which supports survivors, eliminates a bias in the military justice system and increases accountability among all levels of the military. The two have since worked across the aisle to include these important changes in the annual defense bill.
The Senate is expected to vote on the FY15 NDAA next week.
The House passed FY15 NDAA includes provisions from the FAIR Military Act that:
Limit the use of the “good soldier” defense, which allowed a defendant to cite unrelated, subjective factors during trial, such as military record;
Require commanders be assessed on their ability to create a climate where a victim can report a crime without fear of retaliation;
Require commanders and servicemembers be assessed on their support of sexual assault prevention and response policies;
Ensure that the changes and provisions regarding military sexual assault prevention from the FY14 Defense Authorization apply to the military service academies;
Ensure that an independent panel will look at how the mental health records of victims are admitted into evidence at trial and whether changes should be made to the military rules of evidence.
“For the last five years, Congresswoman Tsongas and I have successfully constructed and passed meaningful reforms every single year to eradicate sexual assault from our military. This year’s NDAA takes unprecedented steps forward in the areas of prevention, prosecution and protection and directly confronts the deep-rooted and flawed culture that has perpetuated these crimes. Under this legislation, Perpetrators will no longer be capable of using unrelated, subjective factors as evidence of innocence,” said Congressman Turner. “But our work is not done. Going forward, Congresswoman Tsongas and I will continue our bipartisan effort to eliminate sexual assault from our military and work to ensure that our service men and women have the protection they deserve.”
“Accountability begins at the top and must extend across the military, to every rank and position. This legislation ensures our military leaders, servicemembers and the military justice system, are held to the highest standard,” said Congresswoman Tsongas. “And no more will the ‘good soldier’ defense run interference for criminal behavior and prevent the finder of fact from arriving at justice. Military sexual assault is a multifaceted challenge that requires continued, meaningful reforms. One thing is certain – a cultural change is needed to combat an environment that has allowed these crimes to occur. Although a complete change will not happen overnight, this year’s NDAA is another step towards eradicating military sexual assault.”
"The FAIR military act brings much needed accountability to both officers and enlisted members who create harassing, toxic cultures in their military units which allow incidents of military sexual violence to flourish," said Anu Bhagwati, former Marine Corps captain and executive director of Service Women's Action Network. "Additionally it prevents a perpetrator's 'general military character' from being used as a defense for these crimes."
Tsongas and Turner also released the following joint statement regarding the Department of Defense report issued to the President today outlining several initiatives to combat military sexual assault.
“While these numbers continue to be concerning, the rise in reporting is a possible signal that legislative and military changes from recent years are having an encouraging impact and suggests that victims of sexual assault may be more comfortable coming forward. We are also optimistic about the success of the Special Victims Counsel program, which provides survivors with an attorney to walk them through the complicated military justice system. But none of these findings obviate the simple fact that these heinous crimes continue to occur at an alarming rate, and that a majority of those who choose to report face retaliation. This year’s NDAA includes language we authored that requires that commanders be assessed on their ability to prevent retaliation because the military needs an environment where men and women can come forward without fear of retaliation or repercussion. This report contains valuable information that the Department of Defense must use to take a hard look at itself and to better understand the deep and pervasive challenge it has. In the coming days we will be looking closely at this report, its findings and its proposals, and will work with survivors, support groups and our colleagues in Congress to examine its impact while continuing to pursue substantial legislative reforms.