The issue of sexual assaults in the military really seeped into U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski's consciousness after a hearing early this year about problems at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
“I couldn't believe that the issue was as horrible as it was, as widespread as it was throughout all the military,” she said Friday, Dec. 27. It harkened back to her days as a TV reporter, covering crime, domestic abuse and rape cases.
She and her staff subsequently delved into the matter — which has been a focus of national attention, including a heated U.S. Senate hearing last June — and eventually Walorski authored a measure meant to crack down on such instances. The measure, House Resolution 1864, passed 423-0 in the House last June, and the bill's language was later inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the military spending bill for 2014 signed into law by President Obama on Thursday, Dec. 26.
H.R. 1864, co-authored by Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a California Democrat, was the first stand-alone measure put forth by Walorski, a Republican serving her first term. In a phone interview Friday, she discussed her involvement in the issue — stemming from her position on the House Armed Services Committee — and why she thinks it's so important.
“It's a way to start eradicating this horrific problem and get it out of the military,” said Walorski, who was on the road in the Mishawaka area. More specifically, she said, the whistleblower protections she authored temper the fear some may have in reporting sexual assault cases in the first place.
The measures put forth by Walorski, among several meant to address the issue, give those making reports of sexual assault protection as whistleblowers and require investigations into charges of retaliatory action against victims. Also contained in the NDAA is a provision prohibiting military commanders from overturning jury convictions for sexual assault, the Associated Press reported.
Walorski said she was “grateful” Obama signed the NDAA into law and lauded his call for implementation of the new provisions within a year. The new law hardly ends the campaign, but the whistleblower protections serve as a “foundational piece” in addressing the matter.
“It's demoralizing our military,” Walorski said. “It's our job in Congress to provide a safe environment for them to do their work and then take care of them when they come home.”
There were an estimated 19,000 victims of sexual violence in the military during fiscal year 2011, but only 2,723 service members filed a report of sexual assault, according to a U.S. Department of Defense report from earlier this year. A Pentagon report in November showed there were 3,553 sexual assault complaints in the first three quarters of fiscal year 2013, up from 2,434 in the same period a year earlier, the Associated Press reported.
BIPARTISAN SPIRIT IN 2014?
Congress reconvenes after the holiday break Jan. 7. Among the immediate issues for lawmakers, Walorski said, will be the Jan. 15 deadline to craft a resolution to allow continued federal spending and prevent another government shutdown. Lawmakers approved a budget plan earlier this month, a significant step toward avoiding a Jan. 15 shutdown.
Walorski sees the broad support the budget and NDAA measures received as an indicator of bipartisan sentiment and expressed optimism the spirit would extend into 2014.