The House Armed Services Committee has approved provisions aimed at strengthening military prevention and response policies concerning sexual assault offered by Representatives Niki Tsongas (D-MA) and Mike Turner (R-OH). The legislation, included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), goes next to the full House of Representatives. A vote is expected by the end of the month.
H.R. 5197 The Defense Sexual Trauma Response, Oversight and Good Governance Act (The Defense STRONG Act), introduced by Reps. Turner and Tsongas last month, strengthens the systems in place to prevent sexual assaults and provide support and guidance for victims that report an incident. In addition, the language enables victims to access a military lawyer so that they understand their legal options. Conversations with Victim Advocates would also be made confidential and immune from discovery if the case goes to court, as they typically are in the civilian world.
The STRONG Act is garnering increasing support as reported incidents of sexual assault in the military have increased dramatically in recent years. These escalating numbers are estimated by the Department of Defense to only reflect one tenth of the actual number of such offenses.
Congressman Turner’s intent in this area was inspired by the tragic case of Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, formerly of Dayton, Ohio, who was sexually assaulted and murdered by a fellow Marine while she was stationed at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.
“These new protections for victims are necessary to ensure the increased safety of our servicemembers. Victims of sexual assault must have a safe path to follow if they file a complaint and must be given a fair hearing,” Congressman Turner said. “At the same time, we need to educate our men and women at all levels of the armed forces to do everything in our power to prevent occurrences of sexual assault.”
Merle Wilberding, the Dayton area attorney who represented Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach’s family added, “These provisions are a direct response to the efforts of Mary Lauterbach who continues to be the voice of her daughter, Maria, in speaking out on behalf of victims of sexual assault in the military. In critical part, this new legislation will help advance the training and independence of victim advocates, advances that are critical to the protection and well being of sexual assault victims.”