February 11, 2020

Amid Rising Sexual Assault Rates across the Military, Gillibrand, Grassley, Speier, Bacon Announce Bipartisan Effort to Establish “Safe to Report” Policy in the Military

The Bipartisan and Bicameral Safe to Report Act Protects Service Members from Facing Undue Consequences for Reporting Cases of Sexual Assault

Washington, DC  — Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), introduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate to establish a “Safe to Report” standard in the military. As thousands of military sexual assault cases go unreported each year, reports show more survivors are empowered to come forward without the threat of retaliation. The Safe to Report Act empowers survivors of sexual violence to report these incidents without fear of collateral misconduct charges for minor offenses. 

“Sexual assault is a pervasive problem across our military and despite assurances from the Pentagon and military leaders to address the issue, too many survivors still fear retribution for reporting their experiences,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Reports show that when policies like Safe to Report are implemented, more survivors feel comfortable reporting assault. We need to support survivors and ensure an environment where they can come forward without fear of punishment for minor offenses. This bipartisan legislation is a long overdue step to help end sexual assault in the military.” 

“This bipartisan bill would help provide a safe environment for our men and women in uniform to report instances of sexual assault without fear of retaliation or self-incrimination for minor violations. Survivors shouldn’t have to worry that a relatively insignificant offense might get them in trouble when reporting one of the most serious of crimes,” said Senator Grassley. “The Air Force Academy has already instituted similar policies, so there’s no reason the entire U.S. military shouldn’t also do its part to help end the epidemic of sexual violence in our armed forces.”

“The ongoing increase of sexual assault in our military is a national failure and disgrace, made more egregious by the steady decline in survivors of sexual assault feeling confident that there is a fair system in place,” said Representative Speier. “This bill will address the culture of fear that breeds silence and prevents survivors from speaking out. The Department of Defense’s priority needs to be holding perpetrators of sexual assault accountable, not dinging survivors for minor infractions like curfew violations. Our bill is based on a U.S. Air Force Academy program, which has increased reporting rates in their institution by putting the focus on holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes and delivering services and support to survivors, not re-victimizing them. It’s a no-brainer for us to build on the academy’s success and apply this model military-wide. I thank my colleagues from both Houses and both sides of the aisle for their staunch support.”

“Sexual assault rates continue to rise across the military, while victim reporting continues to fall,” said Representative Bacon. “Urgent action is required to reverse these trends and the damage they inflict on military readiness, retention, and most importantly the lives of the victims. I dealt with this issue as a military commander and court martial convening authority, so I know from personal experience that fear of punishment for minor offenses prevents victims from reporting these crimes. We must ensure victims of sexual assault know we have their back if they have the courage to report it.”

Sexual assault rates continue to rise across the military, while survivor reporting remains unacceptably low. One in 16 women in the military reported being groped, raped, or otherwise sexually assaulted in 2018. In the same year, there were an estimated 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact,” a 38 percent increase from 2016. The Safe to Report Act works to reverse these trends and ensure survivors are not penalized for being courageous enough to come forward and report their assault. As the Department’s latest survey has indicated, the Air Force Academy’s “Safe to Report” policy is recommended as a tool for addressing sexual assault and harassment.

Senator Gillibrand has long been a champion of ending sexual assault in the military. Last year, she led a bipartisan group of senators to reintroduce the Military Justice Improvement Act, which professionalizes how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision over whether to prosecute them to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors.

This bill has been endorsed by the National Women’s Law Center, Service Women’s Action Network, Protect Our Defenders, and National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Companion legislation to the Safe to Report Act was introduced in the House of Representatives on January 30 by Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA-14) and Representative Don Bacon (R-NE-2). 

The full text of the Safe to Report Act may be found here.