Issue 1: Victim Access to Judge Advocate General (JAG) and privileged communication with a Victim Advocate.
A) ACCESS TO LEGAL COUNSEL
Currently victims who file restricted (confidential) reports cannot access a JAG without triggering an investigation and automatically converting their report to an unrestricted (public) report, in which a victim’s Commander (boss) is notified, even if that was not the victim’s choice.
Our bill places JAGs on the list of personnel a victim can speak to while maintaining a restricted report.
The advice of a lawyer regarding a person’s rights and chances of success in a case can be instrumental in their decision whether or not to pursue a public complaint.
Victims should have the right to obtain legal advice regarding their situation, since filing a public report can be detrimental to how they are viewed in their unit, by their Commander, it may impact their career, well-being, and has the potential to create backlash against them.
B) PRIVILEDGED COMMUNICATION WITH VICTIM ADVOCATES
Currently the conversations between victims and Victim Advocates can be subpoenaed in court.
This puts a victim at great risk of having something they told their Victim Advocate in confidence used against them in court, in support of the defendant or a defense witness.
This creates a chilling effect on victims, making them afraid to come forward and speak to Victim Advocates because of the risk of that information being forced to be made public, and potentially, used against them.
This is especially harmful in the military, where soldiers work together, live together, and are in a very close-knit community, and where information about fellow soldiers spreads rapidly.
Enacting privileged communication between victims and Victim Advocates is critical to ensuring that victims come forward and get the services they need, and guarantees that those attempts have confidential protection.
Issue 2: Professionalize and standardize sexual assault programs based on what we have already learned from the success of Equal Employment Opportunity program at the DOD.
The DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) has been told to professionalize and standardize the sexual assault program across services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines) for years, but has yet to do it.
The DOD Equal Opportunity (EO) program is standardized across the services, service members are familiar with it and trust it, it commands respect across the services, and has worked well. We can learn from their structure and experience.
Our bill requires the Secretary of Defense to ensure that the DOD-wide sexual assault prevention and response programs are structured similar to the DOD EO program, by:
Requiring that Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) be full-time, military service members or DOD civilians (not contractors), and require that there be at least one SARC per Brigade. This is what is required of Equal Opportunity Advisors, who sit at the same level as SARCs (the Brigade level).
Require that there be at least one full time, military service member or DOD civilian (not contractor) Victim Advocate per Battalion
Require DOD to create a standardized sexual assault prevention and response training program similar to what EEO has created for equal opportunity and discrimination issues (the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute), and require SARCs to attend that training.
Require the head of the SAPRO be occupied by someone at the Senior Executive Service (SES) level, which is required of the head of EEO at DOD.
Issue 3: Require a Sexual Assault training module at each level of Professional Military Education (PME).
Service members have to get PME training as they move up in the military structure.
They cannot report to duty in their new rank unless and until they have completed their respective PME.
A soldier has to get PME training before they can oversee other soldiers or take on leadership responsibilities.
PME, unlike other types of training in the military, take service members out of their daily work duties and devote time to building skills and learning about new responsibilities. Also, PME classes and modules are frequently taught by people, where soldiers can ask questions, rather than through a self-taught power point presentation.
With an issue like sexual assault, where there is a lot of grey area, having time devoted to training of this nature, with live instructors, is important.
Putting a sexual assault module in this training ensures that all service members get it, because it cannot be postponed or put off (unlike the self-taught training requirements).
This also ensures that these modules are catered to their new responsibilities as soldiers get promoted.