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Part one and part two of this series has outlined the structural nature of rape culture in the US military that is made of and results in severe lack of trust, abuse of power, and a staunch unwillingness to make necessary changes. Those outside the command structure of the military however are more than ready to force them in line. Since February, six pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress and the Senate that, together, tackle these problems in a comprehensive way.

The Ruth Moore Act

The first is the Ruth Moore Act, introduced on February 13th by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree and Senator Jon Tester. It is named after a veteran who joined the service 25 years ago at the age of eighteen. When she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a supervisor, she tried to report the crime but was “attacked again in return and discharged…with a misdiagnosis of border-line personality disorder.”

“I fought for 23 years to get the benefits I was owed. My records were tampered with. I was diagnosed with a mental illness I didn’t have and my life fell apart.”

The bill named in her honor would change a policy of the Veterans’ Administration that currently makes it difficult for survivors of military sexual trauma to be approved for benefits.

“[The bill] would require the VA to give rape victims who have PTSD as a result of the trauma benefits for their diagnosis even if they do not have formal documentation of the trauma.”

“Under this new legislation, victims of rape with PTSD will need only the diagnosis of a medical professional and evidence that their sexual trauma led to PTSD, to get their benefits.”

This will make a big difference to survivors since a large majority of cases of assault are not reported and those which are are often ignored or “inadequately handled.” It will also improve the number of PTSD cases approved by the VA for benefits, ensuring that more people have access to the care they need.

“According to the Service Women’s Action Network, the VA approved 54% of PTSD claims at large between 2008- 2010, but approved only 32% of PTSD claims related to sexual assaults.”

Getting rid of the requirement for reporting to a commanding officer will hopefully make many more people feel comfortable enough to come forward and receive care.

By the Numbers:

Co-Sponsors: 39 (37 Democrats, 2 Republicans)

Status: Out of Committee (House Veterans’ Affairs)

Estimated chance of being enacted: 56%

More information on the Ruth Moore Act can be found here.

Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act

The Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act was introduced on March 13th by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Lisa Murkowski. The bill, part of which would amend a section of the National Defense Authorization Act, would alter some of the policies regarding the prosecution and recording of sexual assault allegations.

“[The legislation would] require the Secretary of Defense to retain restricted reports of sexual assault for at least 50 years. This revises the language [from the NDAA] that would have required that the reports be retained only at the request of the filing service member…The bill would also establish preferred policy regarding the disposition of sexual assault cases through courts martial, and prohibit services in the Armed Forces by individuals previously convicted of sexual offense.”

By the Numbers:

Co-Sponsors: 3 (1D, 2R)

Status: In Committee (Senate Armed Services)

Estimated chance of being enacted: 1%

More information on the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Act can be found here.

Service Members Mental Health Review Act

The Service Members Mental Health Review Act was introduced on March 25th by Senators Amy Klobuchar and Jon Tester. This bill will “require the Department of Defense to review, [with consent], the service records of 31,000 veterans discharged from the military [since September 11, 2001 and through December 31st, 2014] after military doctors diagnosed them with a personality disorder or adjustment disorder” on the basis that they may have been misdiagnosed. Discharges from the military based on these diagnoses results in veterans being denied the right to VA health care and disability benefits because the military considers these illnesses to be “pre-existing conditions.” Senator Tester stated in a press release how this will help survivors of military sexual assault.

“Mental health wounds have become the signature injuries of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To ensure the men and women who suffer from PTSD or who are recovering from a military sexual assault receive the treatment and care they need, it is crucial that the military first provide them with a proper diagnosis of their condition.”

Jenny McClendon is one of the many veterans who have been misdiagnosed and discharged after being sexually assaulted.

“Essentially, I was diagnosed with a personality disorder for failing to adjust adequately to being raped.”

A 2008 review by the Government Accountability Office found evidence that military doctors often “failed to follow required procedures for making such a determination- including more than half the cases at some military bases.” Another problem is that the military allows doctors to make diagnoses that don’t live up to standards set by the American Psychiatric Association.

“The services often do not correctly follow [military] procedures. Even more often, the examinations do not conform to APA standards, and- even if [they do]- the records are deficient in showing a thorough and well performed clinical interview.”

“To get this diagnosis right, the DSM-IV recommends multiple clinical interviews over a course of time. Most diagnoses that appear in military records are founded on two or three sentence notes over a course of a few months. These notes record perfunctory talks that supposedly amount to clinical interviews…”

Correcting these errors would finally allow those struggling with PTSD (in some cases brought on my sexual violence) to receive the health and disability benefits they were cheated out of.

By the Numbers:

Co-Sponsors: 4 (4D)

Status: In Committee (Senate Armed Services)

Estimated chance of being enacted: 0%

More information on the Service Members Mental Health Review Act can be found here.

The STOP Act

The Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, originally introduced in November, 2011, was reintroduced on April 17th by Congresswoman Jackie Speier. It was reintroduced with 83 co-sponsors, and by May 27th that number had risen to 143.

“[The STOP Act] would take sexual assault cases out of the hands of chains of command and place it under the jurisdiction of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office which would be comprised of civilian and military personnel.”

Congresswoman Speier explained in an official statement why a change like this is necessary.

“The way to end the epidemic of rape in the military is with more prosecution; until that happens, nothing will change. The STOP Act creates the fair judicial system that our service members deserve, one that relies on the facts of the case, not the whims of a commander.”

Congresswoman Speier has been very outspoken on this issue, even accusing Congress of enabling the military’s rape culture “by not demanding that these cases be taken out of the chain of command.” Her insistence of making fundamental, structural changes has unfortunately resulted in the US Capitol Police investigating a “direct threat” against her and her husband. The threat originated from a “military-orientated Facebook page” which, according to Speier, “contributes to a culture that permits and seems to encourage sexual assault and abuse.” The page has since been removed.

By the Numbers:

Co-Sponsors: 143 (142D, 1R)

Status: In Committee (House Armed Services)

Estimated chance of being enacted: 0%

More information on the STOP Act can be found here.

Combating Military Sexual Assault Act

The Combating Military Sexual Assault Act was introduced on May 7th by Senators Patty Murray and Kelly Ayotte. In a press release, Senator Murray said the bill’s aim is to “provide substantive assistance to those who face [sexual assault.] It does this in several ways.

  • Provides survivors with military lawyers to help them through the legal process.
  • Requires the Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) to regularly track and report on a range of military sexual assault (MSA) statistics.
  • Refers MSA cases “to the next superior competent authority when there is a conflict of interest in the immediate chain of command.”
  • “Bars sexual contact between instructors and trainees during and within 30 days of completion of basic training or its equivalent.”
  • Provides Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to members of the National Guard and Reserve at all times, “regardless of whether they are operating under Title 10 or Title 32 authority.”

By the Numbers:

Co-Sponsors: 29 (18D, 10R, 1I)

Status: In Committee (Senate Armed Services)

Estimated chance of being enacted: 1%

More information on the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act can be found here.

Military Justice Improvement Act

The Military Justice Improvement Act was introduced on May 16th by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Of the six bills that have been introduced, this is the one that has gotten the most attention, likely because it dismantles the policies that allow the military’s rape culture to thrive.

“Under the legislation, discretion on whether to prosecute sexual assaults and other crimes punishable by more than a year in prison would be given to military prosecutors instead of the commanding officers.”

The bill also bans convening authorities from overturning a conviction or changing a conviction to a lesser offense. Taking the power away from the chain of command, giving it to legal professionals, and keeping it within the authority of military courts will fundamentally change the way that sexual assault cases are reported and prosecuted. This type of system has a much higher chance of being trusted and utilized by survivors.

Tamron Hall, host of News Nation on MSNBC, spoke with Jennifer Norris, a military rape survivor who was part of Senator Gillibrand’s press announcement on her new bill. She asked Norris about the confidence that women have in receiving justice under current policies.

“Women lost the confidence a long, long time ago. Hence the reason that today’s introduction of Senator Gillibrand’s bill was just so touching to me. It’s the first piece of legislation that actually has real substance to it to give us that confidence back.”

The kind of changes this bill would enact is being criticized by some who believe that making structural changes will cause more harm than good. The critics don’t seem to understand that wanting to hold on to this structure is the basis of the problem to begin with. Senator Lindsey Graham, for example, has said he is “adamantly opposed” to the bill and thinks “it will do a lot of damage.”

  “For 200 years, military commanders have been the court martial authority.”

“And sexual assaults are not on the rise because the military justice system lets people go. It’s on the rise because of the culture that’s created in the military.”

What the Senator doesn’t realize is that the culture of the military is what allows the military justice system to “let people go.” That’s how rape culture works. It’s structural. And unless and until you change that structure, the problem will remain the same.

By the Numbers:

Co-Sponsors: 17 (13D, 4R)

Status: In Committee (Senate Armed Services)

Estimated chance of being enacted: 2%

More information on the Military Justice Improvement Act can be found here.

 

Categories: Other, Sexual Violence