Women in the military will find new protections in a defense bill approved by the U.S. House, including provisions to help prevent and eliminate military sexual assault.
The bill, which funds the U.S. military for 2012, would ensure confidentiality between victims and victim advocates, access to appropriate legal services for victims, and expedited consideration for victim transfers. The bill, which now moves to the Senate, would also replace the current head of the Defense Department's sexual assault response department with a general officer.
The provisions come as the issue of military sexual assault becomes better known. Last year, the Defense Department estimated that more than 19,000 sexual assaults occurred in the ranks against both male and females.
"In the military you cannot quit your job, so you are forced to work with and deploy overseas with your assailant. You cannot move to another town, so you are forced to live in the same community as your assailant -- eat near him, shop near him, see him at the gym. This forced co-location causes the victim to be traumatized again and again. These legislative provisions would prevent this from happening," said Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network -- a national human rights organization founded and led by women veterans.
Earlier, the House Rules Committee rejected an amendment to cover abortions for service women who are raped. Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calf., offered an amendment to the same bill that would have allowed servicewomen who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest to receive military insurance coverage for abortions.
"Ignoring the issue and not giving it a hearing won't make the problem go away," said Trista Matascastillo, a Twin Cities women veterans advocate. "Blocking access and services for women who would choose an abortion after an assault only stands to further victimize the victim and stigmatize a woman warrior."
Mark Brunswick • 612-673-4434