After much anticipation across the nation, President Obama signed the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. In the end, it included 19 amendments to significantly reform Department of Defense sexual assault and sexual harassment policies. This landmark bill has the largest number of sexual violence provisions ever signed into law, and represents the culmination of more than 18 months worth of relentless advocacy work by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN). We want to thank the many veterans and service members who shared their voices to demand policy change this year, including Ayana Harrell, Nicole McCoy, Cindy McNally, Ruth Moore, Laura Sellinger and so many others.
The NDAA is an enormous bill that specifies the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense (DOD). It also contains sections that deal with military issues ranging from the total number of troops to retiree benefits, and everything in between. It is one of the primary vehicles used by Congress to provide oversight and mandate change within the military. Every year, SWAN partners with key members of Congress to provide bipartisan legislative recommendations to both the House and Senate to improve the welfare of service women and women veterans.
This year, SWAN was able to help introduce into the bill a record number of provisions based on our policy agenda, chief among them to improve the way the military handles sexual assault and sexual harassment in the ranks. Other provisions were also included that improve health care for service women and military families. Specifically, the law now provides for:
- Prohibiting the military from recruiting anyone convicted of a sex offense
- Mandatory separation of convicted sex offenders
- Insurance coverage for abortions in cases of rape or incest for service women and military family members
- Retention of restricted report documentation for 50 years if so desired by the victim
- The creation of “Special Victims Units” to improve investigation, prosecution and victim support in connection with child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault cases
- Allowing victims to return to active duty after separation to help prosecute sex offenders
- The creation of an independent review panel comprised of civilian and military members that will closely examine the way that the DOD investigates, prosecutes, and adjudicates sexual assaults
- Required sexual assault prevention training in pre-command and command courses for officers
- Improved data collection and reporting by the military on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases
- Annual command climate assessment surveys to track individual attitudes toward sexual assault and sexual harassment
- A review of unrestricted sexual assault reports and the nature of any subsequent separations of victims who made those reports
- Notification to service members of the options available for the correction of military records due to any retaliatory personnel action after making a report of sexual assault or sexual harassment
- Requirement for DOD to establish a policy for comprehensive sexual harassment prevention and response
- Language that will allow better oversight and tracking of DOD’s implementation of sexual assault provisions from prior Defense Authorizations in order to ensure they are being enforced properly
Legislating reform of DOD policies can be a difficult, complicated and sometimes painfully slow process, and is only one of several tools SWAN uses to make institutional change happen. Ensuring those policies are properly implemented by the services and fairly practiced in individual units “where the rubber meets the road” is a continuous process for us. Calls from active duty troops and veterans on our Helpline continue to inform and guide our work. We are grateful to be able to provide help to service members and veterans in need. We are also thankful for our incredible coalition of military, veterans and civil rights organizations, the members of Congress who have partnered with us, and each one of you who have supported us this year. In order to eradicate sexual assault and sexual harassment we must continue to work together to transform military culture. The passage of the 2013 NDAA is another critical step in moving the military one step closer to change.
As we move forward with this year’s policy and legislative agenda, and prepare for our second annual Summit on Military Sexual Violence, SWAN will continue to hold our civilian and military leadership accountable for the welfare of our nation’s service members and veterans. We will continue to fight for changes in the execution of military justice for victims of sexual assault, service members’ access to civil courts, and comprehensive reform of VA policy regarding “Military Sexual Trauma” compensation claims. With your support, we look forward to continued success as we begin work on the 2014 NDAA.
* This article is republished with permission from Service Women’s Action Network