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Women in Congress Leading the Charge on Changing the Culture of Sexual Assault in the Military

May 18, 2013
For Immediate Release

SUNDAY SHOW MEMO: Women in Congress Leading the Charge on Changing the Culture of Sexual Assault in the Military

TO:     Interested Parties

FR:    Stephanie Schriock, President, EMILY’s List  

RE:    SUNDAY SHOW MEMO: Women in Congress Leading the Charge on Changing the Culture of Sexual Assault in the Military


This week, our nation has been exposed to the chilling reality that sexual assault in the military is an epidemic.

It’s estimated that 26,000 service members were assaulted last year alone. That’s a 35% increase from 2010 and what’s worse, only 3,000 of those rapes were actually reported, and only 1,714 cases were actually resolved. 

And now we’re learning that military leaders tasked with tackling this problem have themselves been a part of it, and must be held responsible for their own shameful offenses.

But while this problem isn't new, the attention it's getting is. And EMILY's List women in Congress are front and center. They are changing outrage into action and leading this fight to change the culture in the military.

It’s a reminder that who we elect to office matters. These actions are coming at a time when there are a record number of women in both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees – it’s hard not to see a correlation.

This week, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Barbara Boxer introduced a bill that would change would dramatically change the process by which decisions are made in sexual assault cases in the military, empowering victims to pursue justice in a safe and fair environment. Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced a bill that would prevent convicted sexual offenders from enlisting or being commissioned in the military. And in light of the revelation that military members who are in sexual assault prevention positions are actually accused of assault themselves, Senator Claire McCaskill introduced legislation that would set new criteria for who can serve in those positions. With our best military leaders taking on sexual assault prevention roles, victims of assault will be better served. 

Women in the House and in the Senate, are introducing laws that would prevent commanders from unilaterally overturning convictions, would actually dishonorably discharge convicted rapists from the military, and help stop some of this violence before it starts by preventing convicted rapists from enlisting in the first place.

But this is not a new focus, women in Congress have been fighting for the women who fight for our country for years. Senator Jeanne Shaheen last year passed an amendment that would allow women who are raped in the military access to safe, legal abortion services. That legislation had been a priority of women in Congress for years, and now it’s a reality. And with the election of our first Congresswomen with combat experience – Tulsi Gabbard and Tammy Duckworth – we know that the voice of servicewomen is truly being heard in Congress.

We still have a long way to go before victims of sexual assault in the military receive justice. But this week we have seen meaningful, clear steps being taken to get there. 

If just a few good women can ignite this kind of progress, imagine what we can achieve with even more.



New Report Showed 26,000 People in the Armed Forces were Sexually Assaulted in 2012—Up from 19,000 in 2010. On May 7, 2013 the New York Times reported, “The problem of sexual assault in the military leapt to the forefront in Washington on Tuesday as the Pentagon released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010, and an angry President Obama and Congress demanded action.” [New York Times, 5/7/13]

Report Indicated Many Victims Continue to Not Report Assaults. “In a separate report made public on Tuesday, the military recorded 3,374 sexual assault reports last year, up from 3,192 in 2011, suggesting that many victims continue not to report the crimes for fear of retribution or a lack of justice under the department’s system for prosecution.” [New York Times, 5/7/13]

NPR: Women on Armed Services Committees “Leveraging their Historic Clout to Respond Together to the Sexual Assault Crisis Engulfing the U.S. Military.” On May 10, 2013 NPR reported, “Other bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill may be collapsing around them, but a cadre of Democratic and Republican women serving on the Senate and House Armed Services committees are leveraging their historic clout to respond together to the sexual assault crisis engulfing the U.S. military.” [NPR, 5/10/13]

Record Number of Women on Armed Services Committee in Congress are Driving the Urgency around Sexual Assault in the Military. NPR reported, “The issue, of course, is as old as the military itself, but the record number of women serving on Congress' armed services committees — seven on the Senate panel, a dozen on the House committee — has given heft and urgency to the response.” [NPR, 5/10/13]

EMILY’s List Women on the Senate Armed Services Committee:

  • Claire McCaskill
  • Kay Hagan
  • Jeanne Shaheen
  • Kirsten Gillibrand
  • Mazie Hirono

EMILY’s List Women on the House Armed Services Committee:

  • Loretta Sanchez
  • Susan Davis
  • Niki Tsongas
  • Colleen Hanabusa
  • Jackie Speier
  • Carol Shea-Porter
  • Tammy Duckworth


Gillibrand, Boxer, Hirono, Mikulski, Shaheen, Gabbard, Sinema and Others Introduced Legislation in the Senate Aimed at Changing Chain of Command in Sexual Assault Cases. On May 16, 2013 it was announced that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had introduced legislation by that would “separate the chain of command from the decision-making process over whether a sexual assault case should go to a special or general court martial. The legislation also would prohibit a senior officer, known as convening authority, from overriding an existing guilty finding.” The cosponsors included: Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Mike Johanns, R-Neb.; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Al Franken, D-Minn.; Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii; Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Reps. Dan Benishek, R-Mich.; Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii; Richard Hanna, R-N.Y.; and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. [Roll Call, 5/16/13]

Klobuchar Legislation Prohibit Sexual Offenders from Enlisting. Senator Amy Klobuchar’s legislation would “require commanding officers to receive a report of a sexual assault to act on it within 24 hours and would prohibit convicted sexual offenders from enlisting or being commissioned in the armed services.” [NPR, 5/10/13]

Murray Bill would Provide Legal Assistance for Victims. Senator Patty Murray’s legislation would “create a special counsel for victims of sexual assault committed by a member of the armed forces.” [NPR, 5/10/13]

Jackie Speier Bill Would Prohibit Sexual Acts between Instructors, Recruiters and Trainees. Speier’s legislation would “amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to prohibit sexual acts and sexual contact between military instructors including drill instructors and recruiting commanders and their trainees.” [NPR, 5/10/13]

Sanchez Bill Would Work to End Retaliatory Actions Against those who Report Sexual Assault. Rep. Loretta Sanchez’s legislation would “require an investigation of allegations of ‘retaliatory personnel actions’ taken against military personnel who have made a report of sexual assault.” [NPR, 5/10/13]

Tsongas Legislation would Require Those Guilty of Sexual Assault to be Dishonorably Discharged. Congresswoman Niki Tsongas’ legislation would “require any service member found guilty of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy or attempts to commit any of those acts to be dismissed or dishonorably discharged.” The bill would also “eliminate military commanders’ ability to reverse convictions for any charge except in the case of minor offenses.” [Washington Post, 5/8/13; Roll Call, 5/9/13]