(BIVN) – Hawaiʻi Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard told her fellow Representatives that the system in place to address sexual assault in the military “is not working” during a lengthy markup of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, in the House Committee on Armed Services on Wednesday.
Rep. Gabbard spoke in support of an amendment to the NDAA that would create a pilot program on prosecution of special victim offenses by attendees of military service academies, offered by Rep. Jackie Speier (CA-14).
“This one hits close to home for a number of reasons. You know, there has been a lot of talk about legislation that has been passed, initiatives that have been put forward, commissions that have come together and made recommendations to Congress. But, the evidence and the reports that we continue to see come out year after year show that the system we have in place is not working.
“The reports that Acting Secretary Shanahan recently talked about show that there has been a 38% increase in sexual assault in the military from 2016 to 2018 alone.
“One thing I want to note, in the years that we have been debating this issue especially in this committee, the commissions that are being referenced to my recollection, they represent general officers, officers, or retired officers. Time and time again, we see a lack of representation coming from anyone in the enlisted ranks. No command Sergeant Majors coming forward and yet, who is the number one target of sexual assault in the military? Enlisted, female, troops aged 17-24, E3s and E4s. It is their voices that are not being represented.
“So, time and time again we hear about ‘we have got to protect command authority.’ I agree with that. I served both as an enlisted soldier, for 5 years, up until being in E4 I went through OCS, commissioned as lieutenant, and also served as a company commander. I respect the need for command authority, but I also understand what it’s like to be an enlisted soldier, where you don’t feel comfortable going and speaking to that commander.
“I have served under commanders that have done the right thing. I have also served under commanders who have not, who have abused their power, who have not fulfilled that responsibility. They have to serve and protect their own troops under their command.
“So, I think the point here is we’re looking for other solutions and other opportunities to make sure that the justice system we have in place actually protects the victims of sexual assault in the military.
“Congresswoman Speier has talked about how, in our service academies the statistics she mentioned, none of those sexual assaults had been reported. None had been reported. Why is that? How can you talk about prevention unless these things are actually being reported?
“What I have heard from people who I know personally, is they have not reported their being a victim of sexual assault because they have no faith that their command will stand up for them. They have no faith in a fair, transparent justice system that will not result in retaliation, that will not result in them being sequestered from their comrades, that will not result in them being pointed out and saying, ‘Oh, she is one of those. Watch out. Stay away from her. She’s a trouble-maker. She causes problems. She is ruining the cohesion within the unit,’ when, in fact, the opposite is true. It is the perpetrator of these crimes who are violating the unit cohesion that is necessary in every one of our units — small units and large units.
“So, I can’t speak strongly enough for Congresswoman Speier’s efforts to look at other avenues to begin to get at the heart of making sure that we, as servicemembers, have a justice system that works for us.”
In addition to serving on the House Armed Services and Financial Services Committees, Rep. Gabbard is a candidate for U.S. president.