Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, announced that her Safe to Report Act will be included in the final FY 21 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The annual must-pass defense bill is expected to be voted on this week. The bipartisan Safe to Report Act would empower survivors of sexual violence to report assault without fear of collateral misconduct charges for minor offenses, such as underage drinking or breaking curfew.
“Sexual assault is a pervasive problem across our military and far too often we are failing to support and protect survivors,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Not only do too many survivors still fear retribution for reporting their experiences, but they also lack confidence that justice will be served if they come forward. Including Safe to Report and other provisions in this year’s NDAA is another step to providing a safe environment for our men and women in uniform to report instances of sexual assault and receive justice.”
Senator Gillibrand has long been a champion of policies that would end sexual assault in the military. Earlier this year, she announced the bipartisan Safe to Report Act in the Senate to establish a “Safe to Report” policy in the military. As thousands of military sexual assault cases go unreported each year, the Safe to Report Act would empower survivors of sexual violence to report these incidents without fear of collateral misconduct charges for minor offenses, such as underage drinking or violating curfew. Sexual assault rates continue to rise across the military, while survivor reporting remains unacceptably low. Reports show that 1 in 16 women in the military reported being groped, raped, or otherwise sexually assaulted in 2018, the most recent year data has been published. In the same year, there were an estimated 20,500 instances of “unwanted sexual contact,” a 38% increase from 2016. Senator Gillibrand passed an amendment to the NDAA to help increase reporting and ensure survivors are not penalized for being courageous enough to come forward and report their assault.
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. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is the Senate co-lead for the bill. Companion legislation to the Safe to Report Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA-14) and Representative Don Bacon (R-NE-2).
In addition to Safe to Report, Senator Gillibrand successfully pushed for the inclusion of the following provisions to address the scourge of military sexual assault in the final FY21 NDAA:
- Article 66 Amendment. This bipartisan provision will ensure appeals courts cannot easily overturn sexual assault cases and other criminal convictions. The provision creates a higher standard of review for appellate judges – they must be clearly convinced that the finding is against the weight of the evidence and they must give deference to the trial court and the trial judge’s findings of fact. Further, appeals courts’ decisions will be reviewable by the highest military court.
- Expanding Article 6b rights of the victim of an offense. Though great strides have been made in advancing victims’ rights in the military justice system, the law has not required survivors to receive notification if their assailants’ cases are being heard in appellate courts. This means that survivors may not receive notice that their case is overturned until the defendant is released from confinement. Gillibrand’s provision gives survivors the right to accurate and timely notice of any post-trial action that might result in their case being overturned, unseal their private information, or result in the release of the accused. Further, it gives survivors the right not to be excluded from public appellate proceedings and the right to discuss the case with the attorneys representing the government.