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MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT: Murray Speaks on Senate Floor on Bill to Combat Military Sexual Assault

May 07 2013

Bill would provide greater victim resources while improving current DoD prevention programs



Pentagon released annual report today on sexual assaults in the military, shows the number of reported assaults rose to 26,000 in 2012

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Tuesday, May 7th, 2013, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) spoke on the Senate floor on the Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013, which she introduced today with Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). In an effort to reduce sexual assaults within the military and help the victims of this crime, the Combating MSA Act would address a number of gaps within current law and policy and build upon the positive steps the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has taken in recent years. According to DoD estimates, there were about 19,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2010 alone. Of these, 2,723 servicemembers reported these assaults, leaving thousands of victims to face the aftermath alone as their assailants escape justice.  Today the Pentagon released its annual report on sexual assaults in the military, which shows the number of assaults rose to 26,000 in 2012.  Of these, 2,949 servicemembers reported these assaults.

“When our best and our brightest put on a uniform and join the United States Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding that they will sacrifice much in the name of defending our country and its people. However, it’s unconscionable to think that entertaining unwanted sexual contact from within the ranks is now part of that equation,” said Senator Murray. “Not only are we subjecting our men and women to this disgusting epidemic, but we’re also failing to provide the victims with any meaningful support system once they have fallen victim to these attacks. And while I applaud recent efforts by the Department of Defense to turn the tide on this mounting crisis, we must do more to root out the culture that fosters this behavior and provide substantive assistance to those who face these tragedies alone. I am proud to join Senator Ayotte in introducing the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, to reverse this trend and establish the necessary means for victims to take action against their attackers. It’s inexcusable for us to wait any longer to address this issue and I’m glad this bipartisan legislation is taking meaningful steps to do right by our nation’s heroes.”

"The services have struggled for decades with pervasive sexual assault in the ranks,” said Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).  “SWAN has been at the forefront of demanding institutional changes that would help improve this crisis and transform military culture. The Combating Military Sexual Assault Act introduced today by Senator Patty Murray and Senator Kelly Ayotte contains many provisions that will give the military the tools it needs to combat this widespread problem. Common-sense solutions like providing victims with their own designated lawyers, criminalizing sexual relationships between basic training instructors and students, and making sure that our National Guard troops have access to the same resources that active duty service members have are critical in making sure that survivors are supported and that offenders will be better prosecuted."

“The 380,000 member Military Officers Association of America strongly endorses the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013,” said MOAA national President, VADM Norb Ryan, USN-ret. “Preventing sexual assault is a duty of everyone in the chain of command.  This legislation will increase support for sexual assault victims and strengthen policies and procedures for such cases in our nation’s Armed Forces.”

More information on the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act. 

Key excerpts from Senator Murray’s speech:

“Sexual assault continues to plague the ranks of our military services. And it is absolutely unconscionable that a fellow servicemember, the person you rely on to have your back and to be there for you, would commit such a terrible crime. It is simply appalling they could commit such a personal violation of their brother or sister in uniform. Even worse is the prevalence of these crimes. Just today, we’re hearing the alarming statistics that the number of cases has increased by more than a third since 2010. And for the estimated 26,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2012, less than 3,000 of them were reported. What’s even more startling is that of those who bravely came forward to report the abuse, an astounding 62 percent of them were retaliated against in one way or another.”

“This bill is one step to address the crisis we have in our Armed Forces. And it needs to be done now. And yesterday’s news that the Air Force’s chief of sexual assault prevention was arrested for sexual assault is another reminder that we need change the culture around this issue.”

The full text of Senator Murray’s speech follows:

“ I believe the great strength of our military is in the character and dedication of our men and women who wear the uniform. 

“It is the courage of these Americans, to volunteer to serve, that is the Pentagon’s greatest asset. 

“I know it is said a lot, but take a moment to really think about it. 

“Our servicemembers volunteer to face danger, to put their lives on the line, to protect the country and all its people. 

“When we think of those dangers, we think of IEDs. 

“We think of battles with insurgents.

“Many of whom are so cowardly and so evil they refuse to wear a uniform, and they seek to kill innocent civilians.

“But there are other dangers as well. 

“Dangers that cannot be accepted, and none of our courageous servicemembers should ever have to face. 

“Sexual assault continues to plague the ranks of our military services. 

“And it is absolutely unconscionable that a fellow servicemember, the person you rely on to have your back and to be there for you, would commit such a terrible crime. 

“It is simply appalling they could commit such a personal violation of their brother or sister in uniform.

“Even worse is the prevalence of these crimes.

“Just today, we’re hearing the alarming statistics that the number of cases has increased by more than a third since 2010.

“And for the estimated 26,000 cases of military sexual assault in 2012, less than 3,000 of them were reported.

“What’s even more startling is that of those who bravely came forward to report the abuse, an astounding 62 percent of them were retaliated against in one way or another.

“And according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about one in five female veterans treated by VA has suffered from military sexual trauma. One in five.

“That is certainly not the act of a comrade. It is not in keeping with the ethos of any of the services. And it can no longer be tolerated. 

“We have still not done enough to put an end to these shameful acts. 

“Well, today I am taking action to change that. 

“Today, Senator Ayotte and I joined together to introduce the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013. 

“This bipartisan legislation will make several vital improvements to protect our servicemembers, to assist victims, and to punish the criminals.

“The Combatting Military Sexual Assault Act would create new category of legal advocates, called Special Victims’ Counsels, who would be responsible for advocating on behalf of the interests of the victim

“These SVCs would also advise the victim on the range of legal issues they may face. 

“For example, when a young Private First Class is intimidated into not reporting a sexual assault by threatening her with unrelated legal charges -- like underage drinking -- this new advocate would be there to protect her and tell her the truth.

“This bill would also enhance the responsibilities and authority of DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office – also known as SAPRO– to provide better oversight of efforts to combat military sexual assault across the Armed Forces. 

“SAPRO would also be required to regularly track and report on a range of MSA statistics, including assault rates, the number of cases brought to trial, and compliance within each of the individual services.

“Some of this data collection and reporting is already being done – so this requirement would not be more burdensome, but it would give that office statutory authority to track and report to us on the extent of the problem.

“The Combating Military Sexual Assault Act would also require sexual assault cases to be referred to the next superior competent authority for court martial when there is a conflict of interest in the immediate chain of command. 

“This will help ensure sexual assault allegations get a fair, impartial, and thorough investigation.

“And the President of the Military Officers Association of America agrees saying, ‘Preventing sexual assault is a duty of everyone in the chain of command.  This legislation will increase support for sexual assault victims and strengthen policies and procedures for such cases in our nation’s Armed Forces.’

“This legislation would also prohibit sexual contact between military instructors and servicemembers during basic training, its equivalent, or within 30 days after the end of training. 

“As we have seen with disturbing frequency at places like Lackland Air Force Base, or at the Air Force Academy, new servicemembers are too often taken advantage of and abused. 

“In these settings, new servicemembers have every aspect of their lives controlled by their instructors. 

“While this is appropriate for military training, in this type of setting, it is entirely inappropriate for senior servicemembers to seek a sexual relationship with such a junior subordinate. 

“And it is our view that it is impossible for a servicemember to freely give consent in that setting.

“The bill would also ensure Sexual Assault Response Coordinators are available to members of the National Guard and Reserve at all times. 

“Recently, I was told a very disturbing story by a female servicemember from the National Guard in my home state of Washington.

“After being sexually assaulted during her monthly drill on a military base, she took all the necessary steps, including calling the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.

“But when she called, she was told that because the assault happened during monthly drill, and not on active duty, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator could not help her –that those services were only reserved for those on active duty. 

“This is absolutely unacceptable. 

“When one of our men or women in uniform is the victim of sexual assault, and they have the courage to come forward and ask for help, the answer can never be, “Sorry, there are regulations and there is nothing I can do for you.”

“Now, this bill is one step to address the crisis we have in our Armed Forces.

“And it needs to be done now.

“And yesterday’s news that the Air Force’s chief of sexual assault prevention was arrested for sexual assault is another reminder that we need change the culture around this issue.

“But I want to be very clear the military has taken some steps on its own. 

“For instance, I am looking forward to seeing Secretary Hagel’s proposal on how to reform Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. 

“As I think most of my colleagues know, under Article 60, the convening authority of a court martial is empowered to dismiss the judgment of a court martial and overturn their verdict. 

“Many of my colleagues, myself included, have had serious concerns about how this authority has been used in sexual assault cases.

“I want to thank the Senator from New Hampshire for her advocacy on this issue, and for her help in putting this legislation together. 

“I also want to thank Representative Tim Ryan for his leadership in introducing the companion bill in the other chamber.

“When I asked Navy Secretary Ray Maybus about the sexual assault epidemic, I was glad to hear that ‘concern’ wasn’t a strong enough word to describe how he feels about this problem. 

“He said he is angry about it. 

“And I know many of us here share this feeling and want to put a stop to it.

“So, I am hopeful both chambers can work quickly to do right by our nation’s heroes.

“Because when our best and our brightest put on a uniform and join the United States Armed Forces, they do so with the understanding they will sacrifice much in the name of defending our country and its people.

“But that sacrifice should not have to come in the form of unwanted sexual contact from within the ranks.

“Thank you Madam President, and I ask that the text of the bill be included in the record."