A new proposal in Congress would strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault and abuse in the military by allowing victims to present their story without being punished.
The Legal Justice for Servicemembers Act is an updated version of a previous piece of legislation, the Military Whistleblower Protection Act, first crafted by current Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California when she was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988.
The updated legislation aims to strengthen protections for military whistleblowers, specifically to those who have been assaulted by another member of the military, and to reform military guidelines so victims who have been ignored in the past can receive compensation, reports Defense One.
“Servicemembers who bravely speak out about wrongdoing or misconduct — especially sexual assault survivors — deserve to know that they will be protected from retaliation. This bill will help ensure that whistleblowers who experience reprisal receive justice and that retaliators are held accountable,” Boxer said in a statement.
Boxer was joined by Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Jackie Speier of California, all Democrats, to support and author the legislation.
In his statement, Wyden advocated for the “strongest possible protections from retaliation,” while Markey called victims who come forward “modern day Paul Reveres.”
The act would establish a “clear and convincing” standard burden of proof that is similar to civilian protection standards, notes Boxer’s website.
While the number of ignored and unknown cases of sexual assault in the military has declined in recent years, they still remain higher than most are aware of. According to statistics from the Pentagon, 62 percent of victims, mainly women, who reported cases of sexual assault last year received some type of retaliation or punishment from supervisors and other servicemembers.
In a statement acknowledging the issue, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter understood the complexities of the situation.
“We’ve learned that even the perception that those reporting, trying to prevent, or responding to an assault may be retaliated against is a challenge for all of us. Sadly, for too many of those assaulted, the crime is made worse by how he or she is treated after the attack … after they’ve reported it,” Carter said.
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