Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, and U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, today announced that their bipartisan bill to protect military families from intimate partner violence and child abuse and neglect, the Military Family PROTECT Act, was included in the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed last night out of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The legislation will now head to the full Senate for a vote.
“Our military families risk everything they have to keep our country safe, yet Congress and the Defense Department haven’t done enough to help them when they need it most. Last year alone, there were thousands of confirmed incidents of intimate partner violence and child abuse, including 17 deaths of children,” said Senator Gillibrand, the Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “Congress has to do more to end child abuse and intimate partner violence in military families. I am very proud to announce the bipartisan Military Family PROTECT Act was included in the NDAA. This provision would ensure that every base and every military region has a plan and the tools they need to fight these horrific crimes. Congress must do more to protect our service members, their spouses, and their children, and this bill is a necessary start.”
“I am proud our bipartisan legislation to establish multidisciplinary teams to protect military families from violence and abuse was included in the NDAA,” said Senator Tillis, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “As Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, Senator Gillibrand has been committed to working in a bipartisan manner to improving the lives of servicemembers and their families, and together our committee has taken important step in preventing violence and abuse in the future.”
In FY 2017, there were 12,849 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect across the military services, with 6,450 of those incidents confirmed. The Defense Department (DoD) also reported 17 child abuse-related fatalities during the same year. Twelve of the child victims were under five years old, and 65 percent of the child victims were one year old or younger. Gillibrand’s bipartisan Military Family PROTECT Act would improve the military’s response to child abuse and intimate partner violence and would strengthen prosecutions at each military installation or geographic region. The bill would establish multidisciplinary teams (MDT), including social workers, advocates, investigators, prosecutors, forensic interviewers, and medical personnel, at each military installation or geographic region to respond to special victim cases. The MDT would review cases, respond to child abuse and domestic violence incidents, and work with already existing civilian MDTs that work on military cases.
The Military Family PROTECT Act also creates a pilot program of universal home visiting services modeled after evidence-based civilian programs. A Durham, N.C., program on which this pilot program is based has led to a 39% population-wide reduction in child abuse and neglect investigations. The program is led by nurses or other medical personnel, and it provides training, beginning prenatally, on safe childcare practices aimed at reducing child abuse and fatalities due to abuse and neglect. The program offers universal access to family support services, connects families to their communities, reduces the stigma of seeking help, and decreases the incidence of abuse within military families.
Senator Gillibrand also secured the following other provisions in the NDAA to support military families:
- Prevalence Survey for Intimate Partner Violence and Child Abuse: There were approximately 12,000 reported incidents of child abuse and neglect incidents and over 15,000 reported spousal abuse incidents in fiscal year 2017. This provision requires the development and implementation of a survey to get better data on these crimes.
- Training on Traumatic Brain Injury in Intimate Partner Violence: Directs DoD to train first responders, medical personnel, investigators, and prosecutors on the signs and consequences of traumatic brain injury for survivors of intimate partner violence.
- Juvenile Offenses on Military Installations: This provision requires DoD to share jurisdiction over crimes committed by juveniles on bases, including sexual assaults, with state authorities.
- Expansion of Special Victim Counsel Services for Intimate Partner Violence and Child Abuse Survivors: Victims of intimate partner violence and child abuse often have significant trauma and are in need of assistance navigating the complex, lengthy, and stressful experience of an investigation and possible prosecution of the offender. This provision will give survivors of aggravated domestic violence and child abuse access to trained special victim counsels to advocate for them during these difficult cases.
- Expedited Transfer for Domestic Violence Survivors: Broadens the expedited transfer policy to allow service members who survive domestic violence to move quickly away from the offender and requires the DoD to assess whether it can offer this same expedited transfer policy to military family members who survive domestic violence. Currently, the expedited transfer policy extends only to service members who are sexual assault survivors.