STOP Act Aims to End Sexual Assault in the Military

April 24, 2013
Lisa Maatz speaking from a podium in front of a farm.

Lisa Maatz speaks at STOP Act press conference.

Last week, AAUW’s Director of Public Policy Lisa Maatz stood alongside Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), representatives from other women’s organizations, and survivors of military rape to announce the reintroduction of the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act (H.R. 1593). AAUW Executive Director Linda Hallman, a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, also recently gave testimony on this issue at the Defense Department’s Advisory Committee on Women in the Services. AAUW strongly supports the STOP Act, which would change how sexual assault is handled in the military by creating an independent body to investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases.

Statistics prove how badly this legislation is needed. More than 200,000 women are in the active-duty military, making up about 14.5 percent of the active-duty force. The Department of Defense estimates that 19,000 sexual assaults occur in the military each year, yet the vast majority, between 80–90 percent, go unreported. In 2010, the Department of Defense conducted a survey of active-duty members that revealed that only 13.5 percent of victims report sexual assault.

The prosecution rates of sexual assault are alarmingly low. Only 8 percent of assailants were referred to courts-martial, or military courts, compared with 40 percent for similar offenders prosecuted in the civilian court system. Why should victims report their assault if they have no faith their assailant will be convicted?

That’s what the STOP Act would address. It would change how sexual assault is handled in the military by creating an independent body to investigate and prosecute sexual assault cases. This legislation takes the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command. Instead, a new department at DOD called the Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office will have final and independent authority to investigate and oversee the prosecution of all sexual offenses. The legislation also creates a sexual assault database within the Department of Defense that will be required to share information with the Department of Justice civilian sex offender database.

AAUW backs many initiatives to address the problem of sexual assault in the military. Among our efforts is the work of our Legal Advocacy Fund, which has provided support to service members who allege in lawsuits that they were sexually assaulted or raped by other service members while serving their country.

AAUW has also teamed up with the filmmakers of the Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War to arrange screenings nationwide. Hundreds of AAUW members have seen this important movie and have engaged their communities in discussions about sexual assault and violence in our nation’s military. People need to know more about this issue.

Through accountability, education, and a robust prosecution system, we can end sexual assault in the military. Such protections are a long time coming, and they are the least we can do to support and respect the women and men around the world advancing this country’s interests and safety.

Learn more about the STOP Act and urge your representative to support the bill through AAUW’s Two-Minute Activist tool!

Beth Scott By:   |   April 24, 2013