11.19.13

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Delivers Senate Floor Speech on Military Sexual Assault

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin Delivers Senate Floor Speech on Military Sexual Assault
 
Washington D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today joined a bipartisan group of Senate women in speaking out on the Senate floor working to support historic change in an ongoing effort to address military sexual assault.
 
Senator Baldwin’s speech highlighted the story of Rachel from La Crosse, Wis., a survivor of military sexual assault who has turned her pain and courage into a platform for advocacy and service to her community.
 
“The men and women in our armed services serve with courage in defense of our freedom every single day,” said Baldwin. “In my eyes, their service needs to be respected by taking decisive action to address the ongoing crisis; in fact you can call it an epidemic, of sexual assault in the military. We know that the system is broken and it’s long past time that we fix it.”
 
The Senate is debating the National Defense Authorization Act this week. Senator Baldwin is a cosponsor of the Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013, S. 967, legislation introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that has earned bipartisan support. The legislation would reform the military justice system so that military prosecutors - instead of commanders - would have the independent authority to decide whether or not felony cases go to trial. Under the current system, commanders have the discretion whether or not to prosecute a service member accused of sexual assault. They also have the ability to lessen or overturn a judge or jury’s conviction. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation would reform Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice to make the military justice system independent at the felony level.
 
According to a 2012 report released by the U.S. Department of Defense, an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault occurred in FY2012, a 37 percent increase from FY2011. Meanwhile, overall rates of reporting dropped from 13.5 percent in 2011 to 9.8 percent in 2012.  According to the report, across the Services, 74 percent of females and 60 percent of males perceived one or more barriers to reporting sexual assault. In addition, 62 percent of victims who reported a sexual assault indicated they perceived some form of professional, social, and/or administrative retaliation.  A separate report released this spring by the Department of Defense showed that more than one in five female service members reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military.
 
In addition to her speech, Baldwin offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that requires a study to collect data from universities, law enforcement and ROTC programs on incidents and allegations of sexual violence by ROTC cadets in order to assess whether or not there is cause for concern regarding, sexual violence within ROTC programs.
 
Watch Baldwin’s speech here.
 
Below, full remarks as prepared for delivery.
 
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Senate Floor Speech
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
 
Mr. President, I rise this morning to speak about this year’s National Defense Authorization legislation and the important reforms that are a part of the underlying bill to improve our military’s response to sexual assault within its ranks.
 
The men and women in our armed services serve with courage in defense of our freedom every single day.  In my eyes, their service needs to be respected by taking decisive action to address the ongoing crisis; in fact you can call it an epidemic, of sexual assault in the military. We know that the system is broken and it’s long past time that we fix it.
 
I want to share just one story from a remarkable and brave woman named Rachel who lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
 
Rachel joined the Army in 2004. She was sexually assaulted that same year when she was stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland for advanced individual training.  After reporting her assault to her commanding officer, Rachel was interrogated for hours over numerous days and ultimately forced to drop the charge.  She was written up for fraternization - and her assailant was not charged with any crime.
 
As you can imagine, Rachel was deeply affected by the trauma of this crime and continues to face struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder.
 
But Rachel is a survivor, and a true inspiration.  She has turned her pain and courage into a platform for advocacy and service to her community, working through her organization, Survivors Empowered Through Art, to raise awareness about military sexual assault through the power of art and storytelling.
 
Rachel’s story is a reminder that she is not alone and that we must do everything we can to make sure that all victims of sexual assault have the support that they deserve.
 
That is why I am heartened by the many important reforms included in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, and very grateful to the bipartisan coalition, in particular of women Senators, who have worked so diligently to make this change happen.  In particular, Senators Gillibrand and McCaskill have led the fight to make these improvements.  Their efforts will make a real difference in the lives of countless Americans by preventing sexual assault in the military and greatly improving our support to victims.
 
However, I believe that more must be done to help victims of sexual assault.
 
That is why I am proud to cosponsor Senator Gillibrand’s amendment, which would improve on these important reforms by removing the prosecution of major crimes from the military chain of command.  Instead, military prosecutors would determine whether to move a case forward, which would eliminate inherent bias and conflicts of interest which currently deter victims from reporting sexual assault crimes in the first place.    

I am also filing an amendment to ensure we’re including ROTC programs in our conversations about military sexual assault. Just like we must ensure that our new officers from the service academies meet our highest standards, we must do the same of those commissioned in ROTC programs across America.
 
I think the important improvements in this year’s Defense Authorization show the great promise of what can be achieved if we work together in a bipartisan way to get things done for the American people.
 
I have to tell you – it’s a tremendous privilege to be a public servant.  It’s a special privilege to be the first woman elected from my state to the U.S. Senate.  But one of the best parts, for me, is that I get to be a woman in the Senate at a time when there are so many other incredible women in the Senate to work with, to learn from, and look up to.
 
I want to expressly thank my Senate colleagues who serve on the Armed Services Committee - Senators McCaskill, Hagan, Shaheen, Gillibrand, Hirono, Ayotte, and Fischer – I want to thank them for their work guiding this process through their committee in such an effective and bipartisan way.  My thanks of course, as well go to Senators Levin and Inhofe for their stewardship of these important provisions.  I’d also like to thank Senators Mikulski and Collins for organizing today’s floor speeches.
 
The cumulative total of these changes represent true progress in eliminating the tragedy and scourge of sexual assault in the military.  I once again thank my colleagues for their bipartisan work and yield back.
 
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