U.S. Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) today successfully had an overwhelming number of her legislative priorities to combat sexual assault in the military incorporated in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20).

As the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee considered the FY20 NDAA, McSally outlined 18 provisions to stop sexual assault in the military, a culmination of months of her work meeting with military leaders, base commanders, military sexual assault victims and the creation of the Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force, formed by McSally’s request. All but one provision was included in the final bill text.  

“There is no place for sexual assault in our military or our society,” said McSally. “As a commander in the U.S. Air Force and a survivor of military sexual assault, I bring a unique perspective to Congress. For the last four months, I have heard from top-ranking Pentagon officials to survivors to men and women currently serving in the military—all who are seeking change in how sexual assault is dealt with in the military. These reforms represent the voices of many who do not have the opportunity to change the system. I am proud to speak on their behalf and see my legislative initiatives included in the FY20 NDAA and look forward to consideration of the bill on the Senate floor.”

McSally secured the following provisions in the NDAA:

Prevention and Training:

  • Prioritize research and focus on prevention of sexual assault.
  • Standardize and modernize training requirements across services through a comprehensive review of best practices in military justice, victim assistance, promotion of healthy command climates, and ensuring the accused is afforded due process rights
  • Extend DACIPAD to continue to study investigation and prosecution of sexual assault in the military
  • Direct DoD to do victim experience survey to understand barriers to victim participation in the judicial process and continue to improve the investigation and judicial process for sexual assault

Victim Support:

  • Ensure Special Victim Counsels (SVCs) are located to guarantee timely access when a victim requests a SVC after reporting an assault
  • Empower commanders with additional responsibility to communicate with victims about the investigation and judicial process
  • Direct the DoD to change current regulations to provide victims additional options for restricted reporting when a report comes from a third party or an inadvertent disclosure
  • Improve processes to communicating with victims and documenting victim preference about the reporting process, including jurisdictional preference
  • Ensure privacy protections for victims utilizing the CATCH program to report serial offenders
  • Study the feasibility of expanding “safe to report” programs across the military services to make sure that victims won’t be inappropriately charged with collateral misconduct offenses when they report an assault 

Investigation:

  • Ensure military judges have similar authority as civilian judges with relation to certain pre-trial issues
  • Mandate the development of a plan to form a DoD-wide data management system to better share and track information on criminal cases, including normalizing data so that each military service is tracking the same data in the same way to ease data sharing and tracking
  • Direct the services to create and report on processes for the immediate collaboration at the start of an investigation by Special Victim Investigation and Prosecution (SVIP) teams in order to streamline efforts 
  • Mandate that the DoD develop a process to ensure and track that protective orders are appropriately shared between military and civilian authorities.
  • Increase capabilities for investigators to meet increasing demand for digital evidence processing and improve the timeliness of investigations

Prosecution:

  • Modify the Manual for Courts-Martial to add a specific offense for “sexual harassment”
  • Promote timely public access to military justice documents, while ensuring measures are taken against inappropriate release of personal information

Background on McSally’s work to combat sexual assault in the military:

On May 15, McSally introduced the Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, landmark legislation to combat military sexual assault. The legislation focuses on improvements to the investigation and judicial process, as well as victim support once an assault has been reported.

On May 9, McSally met with Air Force leadership at Andrew Air Force Base to dig into the improvements that McSally is proposing.

On May 7, McSally convened a meeting of the nation’s top military leaders to discuss the recommendations and path forward on combating sexual assault. This meeting followed the delivery of the task force report that was a direct result of McSally’s request to the Acting Secretary of Defense.

On April 26, McSally visited Ft. Huachuca and Davis-Monthan to meet with soldiers and airmen to hear firsthand their ideas on ending sexual assault in the military.

On April 17, McSally visited Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to hear their perspective on how to address sexual assault in the military.

On April 4, McSally delivered the keynote address at the U.S. Naval Academy at a discussion about sexual assaultand sexual harassment at colleges, universities, and service academies nationwide.

On March 28, McSally met with the Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force to discuss her vision for the task force. This task force was formed at McSally’s request. The meeting was attended by the Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense as well as representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Judge Advocates General, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Office of the Inspector General, Office of Force Resiliency, and the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Office.

On March 21, McSally visited Luke Air Force Base where she met with commanders and held a meet-on-greet with airmen for a discussion on tackling sexual assault.

On March 18, McSally requested the immediate formation of a Department of Defense task force to combat sexual assault. Just a day later, Shanahan committed to standing up the task force at McSally’s request.

On March 14, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Department of Defense budget posture, McSally received a commitment from Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford to work with her to combat sexual assault in the military.

On March 13, McSally called for an executive summit within the next 30 days to tackle the issue of sexual assaultin the Air Force.

On March 6, McSally disclosed that she was a survivor of military sexual assault and sought to combat sexual assault in the military while keeping sexual assault cases under the commander.