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Sen. Tim Kaine presses Pentagon brass on sexual assaults

tim kaineU.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Armed Services Committee, today pressed top military officials on the escalating crisis of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact in the military. Kaine also outlined his concerns this morning in an op-ed in the Virginian-Pilot.

During the first panel of the hearing, Kaine questioned Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, Service Chiefs and Service Judge Advocates General and described the damaging impacts he believes increasing incidents of sexual assault in the military have on both the future of military leadership, as well as our society as a whole. In addressing the risk to the military’s ability to create an environment where young leaders feel they have a place, Kaine noted a recent visit to Mary Baldwin College’s Virginia Women’s Institute of Leadership –  a corps of nearly 100 female cadets that has a higher commissioning rate than most of the Senior Military Colleges.

“They [Mary Baldwin cadets] were asking me about the sexual assault issue. When someone says ‘I’ll put my life on the line and I will risk death in harm’s way but I won’t risk entering a culture that has allowed this to grow’ – that is a very serious concern,” said Kaine. “We all want to make sure the best leaders of the future feel like this is a career they can pursue.”

Kaine also expressed concern that the sexual assault epidemic may negatively impact how the U.S. military – and by extension, our country – is viewed by the American people and around the world. A recent Pentagon report estimated 26,000 sexual assault offenses are committed each year and that there has been a 6 percent increase in reported sexual assaults involving a servicemember as either a victim or an offender in the last year.

“Every society needs heroes and you all are as good as we have now. But when people start to question their heroes, it not only affects their view of the military, it affects their view of our entire society,” said Kaine. “I think when people look at the military and people see these stories about sexual assault, it doesn’t just affect their view about the military, it weakens their confidence in our nation. That’s why the stakes in getting this right are so high.”

In discussing the approach to combatting sexual assault, Kaine focused on a fear of retaliation many cadets cite as the reason for not reporting incidents of unwanted sexual contact. Kaine introduced the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2013with Senator Mark Warner – legislation to strengthen existing military whistleblower protection laws to ensure that victims of sexual assault and other misconduct are protected from retaliation after they report the alleged offenses. Companion legislation was introduced today in the  U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Mike Coffman (R-CO).

“One of the main issues here is fear of reporting. The Department of Defense report that came out in April has some staggering numbers. For those who do report unwanted sexual contact, 62 percent say that they have experienced retaliation as a result. And for those who don’t report – we know about 7 of 8 don’t report – 47 percent of them don’t report because of fear of retaliation,” said Kaine. “I think we have got to get at that issue of retaliation.”

Kaine has cosponsored a number of bills to address sexual assault in the military, including Senator Claire McCaskill’s legislation to reform the Uniform Code of Military Justice by placing limits on the ability of commanders to overrule sentences and findings of Courts Martial, the Ruth Moore Act of 2013 that will require the Department of Veterans Affairs to relax the evidentiary standards for military sexual trauma survivors who file disability claims with the VA so they are on par with combat veterans suffering from the same conditions and legislation introduced by Senator Jeanne Shaheen that requires a more thorough screening and interview process for sexual assault prevention officers. These and other proposals will be considered during the Armed Services Committee’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) next week.

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