Sanchez calls on DoD to take steps to stop sexual assults in military

Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Chair of the Caucus on Women in the Military Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA-47), alongside Co-Chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus Reps. Michael Turner and Niki Tsongas,  held a closed-door meeting on Monday with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, and members of the Caucus on Women in the Military and the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus to discuss DoD’s initiatives to prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military.

“Today, Congress and leaders of the Department of Defense came together to find the best way forward on this ongoing challenge of creating a zero-tolerance policy in the military when it comes to sexual assault,” said Sanchez.  “I’m pleased with the progress we have made over the past several years, including implementation of victim support programs, reform of the UCMJ rape provisions, strengthening of sexual assault investigation and prosecution functions, and enhanced reporting and oversight at the departmental and congressional levels.  The Secretary has announced additional new initiatives to establish Special Victims Units within each military department for the investigation and prosecution of special victim offenses, and reiterated the importance of the prosecution of rape and sexual assault cases under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. I support these initiatives and I’m glad to stand behind the Department of Defense as they take stronger action than ever before to combat this terrible threat to our military personnel and readiness of our forces.

“I believe the most powerful step we can take to eliminate sexual assault is to increase oversight and accountability of our commanders.  This is why during today’s meeting, I asked the Secretary to work with me to pursue language that would emphasize the importance of commanders conducting climate assessments, which helps to improve the safety and well-being of our soldiers. I also emphasized the importance of examining sexual harassment in the military with equal vigor, and the Department’s role in preventing and tracking harassment cases.  As Congress prepares for the upcoming NDAA, I and my colleagues Mr. Turner and Ms. Tsongas will continue to work with the Department of Defense to address these concerns.”

A member of the Armed Services Committee since coming to Congress in 1997, Rep. Sanchez immediately began pushing for significant measures to fight sexual assault in the military, using the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) as a vehicle.  Sanchez led the effort to update outdated sexual assault provisions in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, originally enacted in 1950, in order to grant additional victims’ rights. The provisions were passed in the 2005 defense authorization bill.  She also lobbied to implement a sexual assault database in the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law No: 110-417.