With revelations that sexual assault is on the rise in the military, Florida Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan announced Tuesday he is co-sponsoring a bill he hopes will crack down on the problem.
The bill prevents officers from overturning convictions for major offenses including sexual assault. The BE SAFE Act, as its supporters have dubbed it, ensures any officer found guilty of rape, sexual abuse or forcible sodomy be dishonorably discharged.
This type of shameful behavior must be dealt with swiftly and firmly, said Buchanan, noting that the vast majority of military sexual assault cases go unreported. Helping the victims of sexual violence, whether it be in the military or civilian life, is not a political issue it is a moral issue. We must do everything in our power to protect the victims of abuse while bringing their perpetrators to justice.
Every day, thousands of young men and women enlist in the armed forces prepared to lay down their life in defense of their nation, said Buchanan. The last thing on their mind is that they could become a victim of sexual assault. This bill takes a critical step toward protecting survivors while prosecuting those responsible for these heinous crimes.
Buchanan, who served in the Michigan Air National Guard and previously was on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, is joining with Ohio Republican Michael Turner and Massachusetts Democrat Niki Tsongas, the widow of former U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas who is best known for his presidential bid in 1992. The Senate version is being backed by Claire McCaskill. D-Mo., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Sponsors are trying to get the bill into the National Defense Authorization Act.
The problems the U.S. military have had dealing with this issue --whether its aggressively prosecuting perpetrators or effectively protecting survivors --are well- chronicled and have gone on far too long, said McCaskill, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, when she introduced the bill in late May. Its time for the reforms contained in this bill, and Im going to work with my colleagues in both chambers and in both parties to ensure that theyre enacted.
Tsongas, the co-chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, offered a personal story when she introduced the bill in late May.
I became involved in this issue six years ago when a female soldier told me she was more afraid of her fellow soldiers than she was of the enemy," Tsongas said. She carried a knife in her waistband on-base in case she ever needed to fight back. Thats why we introduced this legislation to fight back. Our bill is an important first step at looking to change the power of commanders and bring power back to those who have had it ripped away.
Early last month, reports surfaced that sexual assault in the military continues to rise -- from 19,000 incidents in 2010 to 26,000 in 2012.
Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News.