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MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Endorses Murray-Ayotte Special Victims' Counsel Legislation

Jun 11 2013

Bipartisan legislation would expand Air Force program and provide trained military lawyers to victims of sexual assault in all service branches

General Dempsey and Secretary Hagel to testify in front of Senators Murray, Ayotte, and Senate Budget Committee on Wednesday

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) announced today that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey has endorsed a key provision in bipartisan legislation they authored – the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act – that would provide victims of sexual assault in the military with a Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC), a trained military lawyer to assist the victim throughout the process.  Building on the success of an Air Force SVC pilot program, the Murray-Ayotte legislation would expand the program to victims in all services to help them through the legal process.

Last week, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing focused on efforts to stop sexual assaults in the military, Senator Ayotte requested an official response from General Dempsey on his position regarding the Murray-Ayotte legislation to expand the SVC program.

In his response, he wrote, “The Air Force Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) pilot program, while very new, has shown positive results and provides a robust support program for victims of sexual assault.  Hundreds of victims have availed themselves of SVC services in the Air Force in just the past several months since it was implemented.  Many of those victims who initially filed restricted reports of sexual assault decided to change their report to unrestricted, allowing full investigation of the offenses committed by their assailant.  As the early reports have been so promising, I expressed in my May 20, 2013, letters to Senators Levin and Inhofe that the proposed SVC legislation had merit. I support providing victims of sexual assault this important resource.

During last week’s hearing, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh also praised the success of the SVC pilot program.  In response to a question from Senator Ayotte, General Welsh testified that responses from victims regarding the Air Force’s Special Victims’ Counsel pilot program have been “overwhelmingly positive.”  He testified that he intends to recommend the continuation of the program.

In May, at a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, General Welsh highlighted the success of the Air Force SVC program, saying, “The special victims counsels have helped...typically it's 30 percent, as I mentioned, of our victims who won't -- continue through prosecution, even after making an unrestricted report. So far, the 265 assigned special victims counsels, two have done that. That's a great trend. We must now continue it. One of the other problems we have is that we have never had people who make restricted reports initially change from a restricted to unrestricted at a very high rate so that we can investigate and potentially prosecute those cases. About 17 percent of our reportees in the past have changed from a restricted mode to an unrestricted. Of the victims who have special victims counsel assigned, that number is tracking at 55 percent right now. And it's rising slowly as confidence grows. We have to continue that trend.”

The Murray-Ayotte Combating Military Sexual Assault Act (S.871) takes additional steps aimed at reducing sexual assaults within the military and helping the victims of these crimes.  The legislation would address a number of gaps in current law and policy and would build upon the positive steps the Pentagon has taken in recent years to address this problem. The Murray-Ayotte bill currently has 37 bipartisan cosponsors.

General Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify in front of the Senate Budget Committee hearing Wednesday where Senator Murray will ask them to address, among other issues, the tragic epidemic of sexual assault within the ranks.

The Combating Military Sexual Assault (MSA) Act of 2013 legislation would:

  • Provide victims of sexual assault with Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) – a military lawyer who will assist sexual assault victims throughout the process. 
  • Enhance the responsibilities and authority of DoD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office so that it can better oversee efforts to combat MSA across the Armed Forces and regularly track and report on a range of MSA statistics, including assault rate, number of cases brought to trial, and compliance with appropriate laws and regulations within each of the individual services.
  • Refer cases to the general court martial level when sexual assault charges are filed or to the next superior competent authority when there is a conflict of interest in the immediate chain of command.
  • Bar sexual contact between instructors and trainees during and within 30 days of completion of basic training or its equivalent.
  • Ensure that Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC) are available to members of the National Guard and Reserve at all times and regardless of whether they are operating under Title 10 or Title 32 authority.