On New Year’s Eve, President Barack Obama took pen in hand and signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. In doing so he signed into law sweeping and profound changes in the way the military treats survivors of sexual assault by strengthening the military’s prevention efforts and providing legal protections and assistance for survivors.
The law strengthens support for sexual assault prevention by:
- Increasing the rank of the Director of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office to a flag officer or SES position;
- Outlining requirements for the number of Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and Victim Advocates to assign to each military unit;
- Providing mandatory rank-appropriate training for military leaders at PME schools.
The law strengthens legal protections for survivors of sexual assault in the military by:
- Ensuring that victims have access to a legal assistance and maintaining their option of confidential reporting, even if they seek legal counsel;
- Mandating preservation of physical and documentary evidence and forms;
- Requiring the President to sign an executive order creating legal privilege between victims and victim advocates.
The law strengthens assistance for survivors by:
- Ensuring Victim Advocates and SARCs are certified and full-time service members or DOD civilians; and
- Providing victims of sexual assault with expedited consideration for a base transfer, if requested.
You can read the sexual assault prevention and response section of the law here (Begins with Sec. 581 on pg. 320)
The Pentagon attempted to get out ahead of the bill signing by implementing two new policies earlier in the week. Although the Pentagon press attempted to portray these policy changes as proactive, they are mandated by the new law. The DOD will be implementing the other provisions of the law as the year progresses.
SWAN worked with numerous Congressional offices on the bi-partisan bill including Representatives Braley, Tsongas, Turner, and Slaughter along with Senators Collins, Kerry and Klobuchar. SWAN also worked directly with General Mary Kay Hertog, Director of the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO). This new law represents a tremendous win for survivors of military sexual assault and their families, for the U.S. Military and for supporters of SWAN.
What is truly remarkable about this bill is that during one of the most partisan, contentious and gridlocked sessions of Congress in memory, the sexual assault provisions in this bill were drafted, adopted and voted on with nearly unanimous agreement in both the House and Senate. And Congressional leadership worked very hard to ensure these essential reforms made it through intact into the final bill in spite of other controversial provisions found in the NDAA.
We won this skirmish, but the battle continues. In a recent column in the Washington Post, Pulitzer-prize winner and national security reporter Walter Pincus listed military sexual assault as one of the 2012 priorities for Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and put the White House on notice by calling sexual assaults in the military, “a military issue that has election implications.”
In 2012 SWAN will continue to drive changes within the military and VA and make institutional reforms a reality, and our list of priority issue areas is increasing. Over the Holiday break SWAN was the only organization to respond to a DOD’s report that showed a 60% increase in sexual assaults at the Military Service Academies and that the service academies were not in compliance with DOD policy. SWAN demanded that academy leadership be held accountable and is working with members of Congress to bring institutional changes to the Service Academies as it has brought to the U.S. Military.
It’s a brand new year and SWAN is on the march!