The recently released omnibus spending bill designed to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year contains a boost in funding for victims of sexual assault in the military and other provisions designed to reduce their occurrence within the armed services.
Within the bill, designed to flesh out the budget agreement between Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) last month, appropriations for the Department of Defense have been overall reduced from the previous fiscal year. That’s not the case, however, for funding allocated towards the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault and Prevention Office (SAPRO), which has been fully funded to the tune of $156.5 million. Likewise, the omnibus goes beyond the Obama administration’s request in adding another $25 million to the budget to implement DOD’s Sexual Assault Special Victims Counsel program.
The omnibus bill also prevents spending funds that would circumvent the provisions contained in the latest National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) increasing the penalties against perpetrators of rape and sexual assault. The fiscal year 2014 NDAA, signed into law in December, mandated that soldiers and officers who are convicted of sexual assault will face dishonorable discharge. The bill, now law, also removed the ability of commanding officers to reverse jury decisions in cases of rape and sexual assault, increased the legal assistance provided for victims, and formally banned acts of retaliation against victims who report assaults.
2013 saw a spike in interest — in the media, the Pentagon, and Congress — in the way the military handles sexual assault against the men and women who serve in uniform. That concern came on the heels of reports of officials leading sexual assault prevention programs being charged with assault and a Department of Defense report’s release that estimate 26,000 instances of sexual assault occurred throughout the military in 2012. That oft-cited number may in fact be too low, according to a Center for American Progress report released in November.
Throughout the year, the issue of sexual assault in the armed forces became the subject of numerous hearings and speeches, with a raised profile that has contributed to more armed servicemen and women coming forward to actually report the abuses committed against them. “The issue of sexual assault in our armed forces undermines that trust,” Obama said in May. “So not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make and has made the military less effective than it can be. And as such, it is dangerous to our national security.”