The House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would protect victims of sexual assault in the military who report from being on the receiving end of retaliation from their superior officers.
The bill, which passed in a 423–0 vote, would extend Federal whistle-blower protections currently encoded in law to military sexual assault victims. Should the bill become law, the Department of Defense’s Office of the Inspector General would have to investigate any allegations of retaliation against service members who have reported being raped or sexually assaulted.
Of the 67 percent of female victims who chose not to report to a military authority their assault, 47 percent cited fear of retaliation as a primary reason, according to a 2012 Pentagon survey. One third of the women who did report said they faced social or professional retaliation as a consequence. One victim told KFOX in an interview that she had faced “hatred” when she reported, saying, “They need to put a stop to any retaliation to somebody for reporting. If I had to do this over again, I would live in silent misery and I would never, I would never report again.”
A similar measure was also part of the House’s version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed on June 14. However, due to differences between the House and Senate versions, the NDAA has yet to make its way to the White House for President Obama’s signature. A press release from the office of Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN), the sponsor of the measure, said that its “passage as a standalone bill provides an opportunity for Congress to prioritize the military sexual assault crisis and sign meaningful protections into law as soon as possible.” It is Walorski’s first bill in Congress.
Walorski’s standalone bill now heads to the Senate for approval. The Senate’s version of the NDAA also includes a similar measure, sponsored by Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Sexual assault in the military has come into heightened scrutiny since a Pentagon survey from earlier this year estimated that 26,000 active duty members had faced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, while only 3,374 members had reported their assault. Both those numbers were an increase from previous years. Congress has been debating multiple pieces of legislation since the Senate held a high-profile hearing of the military’s top brass last month.