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April 20, 2014

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Nevada leaders take active role in confronting military sexual assaults

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Capitol Dome is seen between two U.S. Army Band buses Nov. 2, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Congress is scrambling to take a stand against the military’s sexual assault crisis with legislative action, and Nevada’s representatives have been employing a variety of means to make sure their proposed solutions are part of the response.

Last week, Rep. Dina Titus added an amendment to the Ruth Moore Act, a bill aimed at getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to better serve veteran victims of sexual trauma while in the service. Titus’ amendment made it easier for such victims to qualify for benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered as a result of sexual assault; the bill passed the House by voice vote.

Now Rep. Joe Heck has introduced an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would require the military to adopt regulations defining what types of relationships between and among military personnel are inappropriate. His amendment would also mandate that higher-ups found to be in violation of that code of conduct be, at a minimum, administratively separated from the service.

Heck’s amendment is similar to a policy shift Sen. Harry Reid has been pushing the Senate Armed Services committee to make part of the Senate’s defense spending bill for the past month.

“I urge you to eliminate the ability of military commanders to arbitrarily reverse convictions under the Uniform Code for Military Justice for sexual assault,” Reid wrote in a letter to the committee chairman and ranking member in May. “We must hold commanding officers accountable and ensure that they establish a climate in which sexual assault is not tolerated.”

The House Armed Services Committee approved legislative language last week that would prevent the commanders to whom Reid refers from being able to reverse rape convictions.

There are currently several bills in the House and Senate to deal with a rampant increase in sexual assaults in the military, including a proposal to give more authority to military prosecutors to set policies about which sexual assault cases should be brought to court, instead of military commanders.

A Department of Defense report from last month indicated that despite more public discourse about the topic, the number of reported sexual assaults in the military rose 6 percent from 2011 to 2012, and the number of anonymously reported occurrences of unwanted sexual contact rose 30 percent, to approximately 26,000 occasions across the service, from 2010 to 2012.

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  1. The military has repeatedly failed to address this issue over the last 20 years of being called to the carpet by Congress whenever an incident or collection of incidents catches the media's eye. The simple truth is that they cannot investigate their own. The same commander who decides whether or not a crime has occurred looks weak to their superiors if they admit that the crime took place under their command. The only way to stop this epidemic is to pull that authority out of the line of command and have outside investigators intervene. Separate it COMPLETELY from the chain of command. The military has had at least 20 years and after repeated promises, they simply can't do it.