Congresswoman Takes on Sexual Assault in Military

May 8, 2013 4:44pm

In light of the recent increase in reported sexual assaults in the military, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.,  is pointing the finger at who she says is to blame – and it isn’t just the Armed Forces.

Speier, the author of three recent bills intended to reform the military’s handling of rape and sexual assault, took members of the legislature to task for their role in what she called “a broken system.”

“Congress is as culpable as the military in not addressing it, because we’ve known about this issue for 25 years,” Spier said on the House floor Tuesday. “We are big on holding hearings and beating our chests and saying, ‘This has got to stop.’ And the big brass comes up to the Hill, and they say all the right words. They say, ‘We have a zero tolerance.’ And then our chief prevention officer is charged with sexual assault.”

Speier referred to the arrest over the weekend of Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, who has been charged with sexual assault, accused of drunkenly grabbing a woman’s “breast and buttocks” in a parking lot.

Standing next to a blown-up photo of Krusinski, she told members of Congress that that wasn’t the worst of it.

“For all the money we’ve been throwing at this issue, for all the prevention and all the rehabilitation and all of the training, the numbers keep going up,” Speier said.

“And now, this most recent report also suggests that one-third of the women serving in the military reported that they were sexually harassed last year.”

The report she referred to, released Tuesday,  said there were  3,374 reports of sexual assaults involving service members as either victims or subjects in the past year.

“This is an institution of military good discipline, good order?” Speier asked.

President Obama and other members of Congress reacted strongly to the report as well.

In April Speier introduced the STOP Act, a bill that would put responsibility for handling everything from reporting to prosecution and victim care in the case of sexual assault on the shoulders of the Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office, taking it out of the regular chain of command.

Delilah Rumburg, who co-chaired a task force made up of civilian and military leaders charged with writing a report on sexual harassment and violence at the Military Service Academies in 2005, said Congress should ensure the fight against sexual assault starts with prevention.

“I think there still is some work to be done there, obviously, and I think it has to begin in the beginning,” Rumburg told ABC News Wednesday. “We need to step back again and really do that big picture assessment and really determine what is working in prevention and what isn’t working.”

A large part of the problem, Rumburg said, was in what recruits learn about healthy sexuality and relationships even before they enter the Armed Forces.

“I think certainly that every time a rape or a sexual assault happens … it draws everybody’s attention to it, but I mean we really have to look at our own culture throughout this nation,” she said, “about what is it that these kinds of assaults still happen.”

Almost one in five women in the United States has been raped at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“What Congress needs to do is put more money in the ground up in their local communities to help us build on  what we know about the prevention of sexual violence,” Rumburg urged. “It’s not just a military problem.”

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