WASHINGTON (Nexstar) — Reports of sexual assault in the military continue to climb. The latest figures from 2018 show 20,500 reported cases compared to 14,900 in 2016. The Defense Department said it has already taken significant steps to address sexual assaults, but many in Congress remain unconvinced.
Lawmakers have introduced legislation including the “Combating Military Sexual Assault Act” to improve accountability and victim support. The legislation would require defense leaders to create standardized training across all services to provide victim assistance as well as ensure the accused is afforded due process rights.
Shawn Skelly is with the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service. She said training and prevention programs aren’t doing enough to hold offenders and the people they report to accountable.
“The sensitivities involved in having two people who both work for the same supervisors, or leaders make it that more difficult to get to the truth,” said Skelly.
Lawmakers have held hearings and roundtables to get a better idea of what’s causing the increase in sexual assault cases. Some said it’s partly due to more victims coming forward without fear of retaliation.
“I believe there are many victims that basically suffer in silence. We want to provide them with every means necessary to get help,” said Senator Thom Tillis (R- North Carolina). Senator Tillis is a co-sponsor of the “Combating Military Sexual Assault Act.”
He said the proposed legislation would increase resources for victims and improve how sexual assault cases are tracked and shared. Tillis said it would also put a spotlight on the role military leaders play during the legal process.
“And the way they go about making decisions to actually move forward with making convictions,” Tillis said. Lawmakers and military leaders said they’re focused on ending sexual assault and harassment and protecting those who serve.