The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee this month invited Scott Berkowitz, RAINN’s president, Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, and other experts to testify about the current state of efforts to help military service members and veterans who have been victims of sexual violence.
The hearing, held jointly by two subcommittees, was chaired by Reps. John Hall (D-NY) and Michael Michaud (D-ME) along with the panels’ ranking members, Reps. Henry Brown (R-SC) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO). Witnesses also discussed programs to prevent attacks and increase the number of prosecutions.
Whitley spoke about steps the Department of Defense has taken to encourage more victims to come forward for help. Most notably, DOD instituted “restricted reporting,” which allows most victims to confidentially access medical help and advocacy services. Since this change, about 3,500 victims have stepped forward for help. Whitley also noted that some victims do not yet have access to restricted reporting (DOD has determined that in California, for example, many victims cannot get medical care without the police being notified) and stressed the need to extend this reporting option to all victims.
Berkowitz testified that victims who receive prompt, quality, confidential crisis intervention return to full strength more quickly and are more likely to report their attack to law enforcement officials, leading to more prosecutions and, ultimately, fewer sexual assaults. He noted that military victims face many of the same challenges as civilian ones, and suggested steps DOD could take to further help victims and encourage more to report. In particular, he discussed the necessity of extending confidential help to all victims as well; the leadership role commanders must play; and the risks to force readiness if victims do not get the help they deserve.
Despite the evidence of progress DOD has made, all witnesses noted that there is a tremendous amount of work left to be done before victory is at hand.