Honorable Mike Turner
Thank you, Chairman Runyan, for holding this important hearing. I would also like to recognize your advocacy on this issue within the House Armed Services Committee. Special thanks, as well, to all the panelists for their advocacy of victim’s rights and determination to address the military culture and climate. I have worked with Anu and SWAN for several years now and their contribution to this issue has been instrumental in achieving many legal and policy changes.
Before I start my remarks, I would like to point out that the great majority of the Servicemembers are patriotic citizens that serve their country honorably and selflessly. And while today’s hearing may focus on the criminal behavior of a relative few, their behavior should not be used to broadly tarnish the reputation of the many Servicemembers who have honorably sacrificed for their country.
I became involved in this issue in 2008 following the tragic murder of Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach. Maria reported being sexually assaulted and was later murdered by a fellow Marine while she was stationed at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. During the course of the investigation a Marine Corps representative told me that “we lost two good Marines today.” When, in fact, we had only lost one good Marine, Maria Lauterbach, and another Marine who was a rapist and murder that tarnished the reputation of the Corps. Later, during the course of Congressional hearings on the subject, a Lieutenant General stated that Maria “never alleged any violence or threat of violence in either sexual encounter.”
These and several other incidents demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of the problem and how to deal with it. In addressing the issue of military sexual assault it is necessary to address some fundamental areas, namely: Command, Culture and Accountability. I think the hearing today strikes at the heart of the cultural element. Culture within the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
In working on sexual assault issues on the House Armed Services Committee and the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, which I co-chair with Niki Tsongas, we have sculpted legislation that aims to facilitate a culture that encourages victims to come forward and punishes the criminal actors that degrade our military. The personal nature of sexual assault makes it difficult for victims to come forward and discuss the details of their experience. This is compounded by policies that require victims to repeatedly relive the experience and re-victimize the victims. These additional stresses decrease the likelihood of victims coming forward and permit the retention of criminals. As Anu pointed out in her testimony, the DoD SexualAssaultPreventionand ResponseOffice(SAPRO) report indicated that 86.5%ofsexualassaultsgounreported. The end result is that some of these criminal later draw DoD and VA benefits, while their victims are left to fight to substantiate their PTSD claims.
Addressing the issue before the Committee today is a step towards creating a more victim-centric system that improves our military by rewarding victims for coming forward and punishing the bad actors. In addressing this issue, Niki Tsongas and I included a provision in the Defense STRONG Act last year requiring the DoD to retain records prepared in connection with sexual assaults involving members of the Armed Forces or dependents of members. That provision was later included in the FY12 NDAA. This provision requires the Department of Defense to permanently retain records of sexual assault in the military, and ensures that a servicemember who is a victim of sexual assault has access to these records. Servicemembers find it difficult to obtain documentation proving their sexual assault once they have left the services because DoD destroys many of these documents after only a few years. It is our hope that improving this process will contribute to removing the negative stigma that surrounds the process and, thereby, improves military culture and climate.
Col. Metzler and Mr. Murphy. What is the status of implementation of this new policy (HR1540 Sec 586)?