Thursday, June 3, 2010

Legislation to support: The Defense STRONG Act

I write about pieces of legislation often. I recognize it can be tiring, as well as an endless alphabet soup (DOMA, ENDA, CEDAW, etc.). But I think it's important to know about these types of legislation, and I think it's especially telling that these kinds of bills often get introduced and then ... nothing, which is why I always urge people to contact their representatives in Congress and ask them to support or vote for said legislation. Today is no different.

At the end of April/early May, U.S. Sen. John Kerry and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas introduced the Defense Sexual Trauma Response, Oversight and Good Governance Act (The Defense STRONG Act). This is so important. This legislation deals specifically with sexual assault in the military, and if you're unfamiliar with how big of a problem that is, consider this: "surveys of women veterans indicate that as many as 1 in 3 women leaving military service have been sexually assaulted." (For more reading: The Department of Defense released a study in March about sexual assault in the military, which you can see here, but I'll warn you it's a big PDF file. 500-plus pages. The New York Times has an article about the report here.) The sexual assaults alone aren't the only problem; the reporting process and the ensuing (if any) prosecution are also problematic in that confidentiality can be compromised, among other things (more on that here).

According to Kerry's and Tsongas' press releases:
The Defense STRONG Act strengthens the systems in place to prevent sexual assaults and provide support and guidance for victims that do report an incident. The bill enables victims to access a military lawyer so that they understand their legal options. Conversations with Victim Advocates would also be made confidential and immune from discovery if the case goes to court, as they typically are in the civilian world.

The Defense STRONG Act also standardizes the training of service members, commanding officers, Victim Advocates, and Sexual Assault Response Coordinators around prevention and response. It requires that all service members are trained as they move up in the military structure, and prohibits DOD contractors from fulfilling the Victim Advocate and Sexual Assault Response Coordinator roles.
Ultimately, of course, we would all want a world free of rape and sexual assault, civilian and military. But at the least, women and men in the military who are sexually assaulted should have every right and every resource to report and deal with what happened to them. And this legislation could play a role in that. Let your representatives know they should support the Defense STRONG Act.

More reading:

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