House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel: Hearings on Domestic Violence in the Military (September 18, 2019)

Shattered Families, Shattered Service: Taking Military Domestic Violence Out of the Shadows -US House Armed Services Committee (September 18, 2019)

“We are here today because domestic violence has become a forgotten crisis in our military. It has been 15 years since a DOD task force analyzed domestic violence within the military, yet we have seen unsettling warning signs since. Within the last few months, DOD reports have highlighted concerning failures in our services’ domestic violence systems. The DOD has not responded urgently. Today, we will hear from three survivors of domestic violence in the military who are bravely coming forward to share their experiences in the hope that others may be helped. Because we lack data that is recent, plentiful, or granular, we must rely on survivors, advocates and experts to help us understand the unique challenges of dealing with this crisis within the military.” Read more from House Armed Services Committee Chairwoman Jackie Speier here.

Domestic Violence

Panel 1:

Mr. Brian Clubb
Coordinator, Military & Veterans Advocacy Program
Battered Women’s Justice Project

Mr. David S. Lee
Director of Prevention Services
PreventConnect

Ms. Arlene Vassell
Vice President of Programs, Prevention & Social Change
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence

Mrs. Rohini Hughes
Survivor and Advocate

Ms. Kate Ranta
Survivor and Advocate

Ms. Leah Olszewski
Survivor and Advocate

Panel 2:

Mrs. A.T. Johnston
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, Department of Defense

Mr. Kenneth Noyes
Associate Director, DOD Family Advocacy Program (Military Family Readiness Policy), Department of Defense

Related Links:
Congressional Testimony | National Center on Domestic & Sexual Violence
Domestic Violence in Military Families
Rep. Braley introduces Holley Lynn James Act
Law protecting military victims of sexual assault discussed
Woman claims Army is protecting abusive husband
Military Domestic Violence and Child Abuse | C-SPAN
Tillis Chairs Hearing on Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in the Military
Heinrich Questions Army Nominee On Domestic Violence Loophole
Senator Hirono Conducts Hearing on Military Domestic Violence
High risk of military domestic violence on the home front
Kirsten Gillibrand Pleads for Military to Review Sexual Abuse, Domestic Violence Allegation: ‘We Have Grave Concerns’ for Their Safety
The UCMJ May Get A Domestic Violence Update To Prevent The Next Texas Church Shooting
Sexual Assault in the Mililtary | C-SPAN
Military Not Following Own Rules for On-Base Domestic Violence Investigations
Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Case on Doctrine Preventing Military Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
A Unique Military Program Helps Sexual Assault Survivors. But Not All of Them.
Bill giving soldiers right to sue for medical malpractice passes House
Senators introduce bill that would allow service members to sue for medical malpractice
Bid to allow troops to sue for military medical malpractice hits Senate snag
Subcommittee on Military Personnel: Shattered Families, Shattered Service: Taking Military Domestic Violence Out of the Shadows
Opening Statement Chairwoman Jackie Speier, Subcommittee on Military Personnel, Shattered Families, Shattered Service: Taking Military Domestic Violence Out of the Shadows September 18, 2019

Shattered Families, Shattered Service: Taking Military Domestic Violence Out of the Shadows
Congresswoman Speier Holds First House Armed Services Committee Hearing on Domestic Violence in Over 15 Years
House Armed Services Committee tackling sexual assault in the military
Hearing On Military Domestic Violence | NPR
Lawmakers Hear Emotional Stories From ‘Forgotten Crisis’ Of Military Domestic Violence | NPR
Is military domestic violence a ‘forgotten crisis’? | Military Times
Abuse survivors calls domestic violence “black eye of our military” | Connecting Vets
Outreach Key in Addressing Domestic Violence | Department of Defense
Military domestic violence investigation launched | Enid News
Commands Protect Troops and Fail Families in Domestic Abuse Cases, Victims Say | Military.com
Federal Register :: Transitional Compensation (TC) for Abused Dependents

MJFA Research

Domestic violence is more likely to lead to homicide and leaving the abuser is by far the most dangerous time for victims.

People Magazine Published ‘A War at Home’: Five Military Spouses Slain in Six Weeks at Fort Bragg (August 12, 2002)

Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives by Tanya Biank (February 7, 2006)

“December 2, 2002, President Bush signed into law an act that makes domestic violence protective orders enforceable on military installations.”

LCpl Maria Lauterbach/Homicide (2007)

Maria Lauterbach Sexual Assault Hearing (2008) (this was sexual assault and interpersonal violence)

Defense STRONG Act passed (2011) (includes expedited transfer if sexually assaulted)

Jennifer Norris Testimony to HASC (2013) (includes testimony similar to domestic abuse)

Ban on Women in Combat Lifted (2013) (this happened the same day of HASC hearings and as a result it overshadowed the hearings)

Military Policy Recommendations (MJFA) (went to DC and visited congressional members, expansion of expedited transfer policy, independent investigations)

Washington DC Presentation on Fort Hood (MJFA) (went to DC and visited congressional members, status of forces at post with most recorded suicides)

History: The Military and Domestic Abuse (MJFA)

Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) (McCaskill was voted out and Arizona Senator Martha McSally & Senator Joni Ernst are standing in the way now)

Open Letter in support of the MJIA (independent investigations, disband convening authority powers)

NBC Washington: 62 Percent of Military Sex Assault Reports Result in Retaliation (May 18, 2015) (Retaliation is preventing our service members and military families from reporting felony crime)

Deadly Women: 30 Military and Veteran Homicide Cases Featured on Investigation Discovery (Domestic violence is happening to men too, we see a higher prevalence of female crime because the military is 85% male att)

Rep Mike Turner Says New Military Legislation Closes a Loophole & Includes Domestic Violence Victims in the Expedited Transfer Policy (unclear what the status of this legislation is, could not find an update)

Gillibrand: The Military Justice Improvement Act Would Give Service Members a Justice System That Works (July 1, 2019)

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Recent DV/Homicides:

Samatha Field/Army Spouse (2018)

Abree Boykin/Army Spouse (2018)

Sgt. Brittany Silvers/Army (2018)

Debbie Forrest/Army Spouse (2019)

Staff Sgt Amy Colburn/Army (2019)

Sgt. Tyrone Hassel/Army (2019)

(this list does not include all victims by a long shot)

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DV/Homicide History:

Sgt. Bill Coffin (1997) > (Army’s inappropriate handling of DV/DA dates back to 1997)

30 Military Domestic Abuse>Homicide Cases

Non Combat Deaths/Females/Iraq

Non Combat Deaths/Females/Afghanistan

Non Combat Deaths/Females/Other Areas

Cases of Significance:

Kamisha Block (2007) (Murder-Suicide in Iraq, case reopened in 2019 to investigate negligence of Chain of Command)

Holley Wimunc (2008) > Holley Lynn James Act (similar to MJIA)

Recruit Michelle Miller (2013) > Michelle’s Law (similar to MJIA)

Dawn Giffa/Army Spouse (2015) > Lawsuit Against Army (Negligence at Fort Hood)

Pfc. Karlyn Ramirez (2015) > (abuse, child custody, homicide)

Pfc. Shadow McClaine (2016) > (abuse, divorce, homicide)

Pvt. Paige Briles (2016) > (abuse, pending divorce, suspected homicide)

Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel: Hearings on ‘Sexual Assault in the Military’ (March 13, 2013)

Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel: Sexual Assault in the Military (Photo: C-SPAN)

Senator Gillibrand’s Opening Statement at Armed Services Subcommittee Hearing Examining Sexual Assaults in the Military

Hearing is Gillibrand’s First As Chair Of Senate Armed Services Subcommittee On Personnel – Has Been Leading The Fight To End Sexual Violence In Military

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand released the following prepared remarks of her opening statement at today’s Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel hearing examining sexual assault in the military:

“It is an honor and privilege to Chair this hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee this morning. I want to thank the Ranking Member of this Subcommittee, Senator Lindsey Graham, for his support and working with me to move this hearing forward as quickly as possible.

“I know that all of our colleagues on the Armed Services Committee share our deep commitment to improving the quality of life of the men and women who serve in our all-volunteer force on active duty, or in the National Guard and Reserves, their families, military retirees, and Department of Defense Civilian personnel. 

“And that is why this hearing today is so important to me personally…and to thousands of servicemembers…and their families across the country.

“The issue of sexual violence in the military is not new. And it has been allowed to go on in the shadows for far too long. The scourge of sexual violence in the military should be intolerable and infuriating to us all.  Our best, brightest, and bravest join our armed forces for all the right reasons – to serve our country, protect our freedom, and keep America safe.

“The United States has the best military in the world and the overwhelmingly vast majority of our brave men and women serving in uniform do so honorably and bravely. But there is also no doubt that we have men and women in uniform who are committing acts of sexual violence and should no longer be allowed to serve.  

“Too often, women and men have found themselves in the fight of their lives not in the theater of war – but in their own ranks, among their own brothers and sisters, and ranking officers, in an environment that enables sexual assault. 

“And after an assault occurs, an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults happened in 2011 alone according to the Defense Department’s own estimates…some of these victims have to fight all over again with every ounce of their being just to have their voice heard…their assailant brought to any measure of justice… and the disability claims they deserve fulfilled. Congress would be derelict in its duty of oversight if we just shrugged our shoulders at these 19,000 sons and daughters…husbands and wives…mothers and fathers…and did nothing. We simply have to do better by them.

“When brave men and women volunteer to serve in our military they know the risks involved. But sexual assault at the hands of a fellow service member should never be one of them.  

“Because not only does sexual assault cause unconscionable harm to the victim — sexual violence is reported to be the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among women veterans — but it destabilizes our military, threatens unit cohesion and national security. Beyond the enormous human costs both psychologically and physically, this crisis is costing us significant assets – making us weaker both morally and militarily.   

“Already, this Committee and the Pentagon took some first steps on this issue as part of last year’s National Defense Authorization bill that President Obama signed into law. While obviously our work is not done, I am hopeful that we can build on these initial changes which include:

Ensuring that all convicted sex offenders in the military are processed for discharge or dismissal from the Armed Forces regardless of which branch they serve in;

Reserving case-disposition authority for only high-ranking officers in sexual assault cases;

Pushing the Pentagon to lift the combat ban that prevents women from officially serving in many of the combat positions that can lead to significant promotion opportunities. By opening the door for more qualified women to excel in our military, we will have increased diversity in top leadership positions, improving response from leadership when it comes to preventing and responding to sexual violence;

And an amendment introduced by my colleague Senator Jeanne Shaheen and based on my legislation, the MARCH Act, means that troops who become pregnant as a result of an act of rape no longer have to pay out of pocket to have those pregnancies terminated. 

“Concerning our first panel of witnesses, I want to salute each of you for your courage today in telling your very painful and personal stories. It is my hope and belief that by committing this selfless act you are encouraging others to step forward and are also helping to prevent other crimes from going unpunished.

“We have a duty to you, and the thousands of victims you represent, to examine whether the military justice system is the most effective and fairest system it can be.  

“Despite some very dedicated JAG officers, I do not believe the current system adequately meets that standard.  The statistics on prosecution rates for sexual assaults in the military are devastating.  Of the 2,439 unrestricted reports filed in 2011 for sexual violence cases – only 240 proceeded to trial. Nearly 70 percent of these reports were for rape, aggravated sexual assault or non-consensual sodomy.

“A system where less than 1 out of 10 reported perpetrators are held accountable for their alleged crimes is not a system that is working. And that is just reported crimes. The Defense Department itself puts the real number closer to 19,000! A system where in reality less than 2 out of 100 alleged perpetrators are faced with any trial at all is clearly inadequate and unacceptable.

“My view is that emphasizing institutional accountability and the prosecution of cases is needed to create a real deterrent of criminal behavior. The system needs to encourage victims that coming forward and participating in their perpetrator’s prosecution is not detrimental to their safety or future, and will result in justice being done.  Because currently, according to the DOD, 47 percent of service members are too afraid to report their assaults, because of fear of retaliation, harm or punishment. Too many victims do not feel that justice is likely or even possible.

“We need to take a close look at our military justice system, and we need to be asking the hard questions, with all options on the table, including moving this issue outside of the chain of command, so we can get closer to a true zero tolerance reality in the Armed Forces. The case we have all read about at Aviano Air Base is shocking, and the outcome should compel all of us to take the necessary action to ensure that justice is swift and certain, not rare and fleeting.   

“I had the opportunityto press Secretary Hagel on the issue of sexual violence in the military during his confirmation hearing. Secretary Hagel responded by saying, ‘I agree it is not good enough just to say zero tolerance. The whole chain of command needs to be accountable for this.’

“I could not agree more. I was very pleased with the Secretary’s public statement earlier this week that he is open to considering changes to the military justice system as well as legislation to ‘ensure the effectiveness of our responses to the crime of sexual assault.’

“It is with this spirit as our guide that I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.

“After Ranking Member Graham makes his opening remarks, we will hear testimony from my colleague from California, Senator Barbara Boxer who has been a leading voice on this issue. In last year’s Defense bill she successfully included an amendment that prohibits any individual who is convicted of a felony sexual assault from being issued a waiver to join the military.

“We will then have the following witnesses who have either been the victims of sexual assault while serving in the military, or are very knowledgeable advocates for addressing the issue of sexual assaults in the military:

Anu Bhagwati is Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Service Women’s Action Network. Anu is a former Captain and Company Commander, she served as a Marine officer from 1999 to 2004. While serving, Anu faced discrimination and harassment as a woman in the military, and has borne direct witness to the military’s handling of sexual violence.

BriGette McCoy, former Specialist in the U.S. Army. BriGette served in the U.S. Army from 1987 to 1991. She was just eighteen years old when she signed up to serve her country in the first Gulf War. While stationed in Germany from 1988 to 1991, she was sexually assaulted by a non-commanding officer. 

Rebekah Havrilla, former Sergeant in the U.S. Army. Rebekah served in the U.S. Army from 2004 to 2008. She was the only female member of a bomb squad in eastern Afghanistan and was attacked by a colleague at Salerno Forward Operating Base near the Pakistani border during her last week in the country in 2007.

Brian Lewis, former Petty Officer Third Class, US. Navy. Brian enlisted in the U.S. Navy in June of 1997. During his tour aboard USS Frank Cable (AS-40), he was raped by a superior non-commissioned officer and forced to go back out to sea after the assault. 

“I encourage you to express your views candidly and to tell us what is working and what is not working.  Help us to understand what we can do to address this unacceptable problem of sexual assaults in the military. 

“Later this afternoon at 2:00 p.m., we will have a third panel of witnesses from the Department of Defense, and the military services, including the Coast Guard. I want to acknowledge that many of those witnesses are here this morning to listen to the critically important testimony from our first and second panels and I would like to thank them for their participation.”

Sexual Assault in the Military Senate Hearing:

Senator Gillibrand’s opening statement at the SASC Committee Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military (March 13, 2013)
Survivors Share Sexual Assault Experiences in the Military (March 13, 2013)

Related Links:
Sexual Assault in the Military, Part 1 (C-SPAN)
Sexual Assault in the Military, Part 2 (C-SPAN)
Senator Gillibrand’s Opening Statement at Armed Services Subcommittee Hearing Examining Sexual Assaults in the Military
Gillibrand Opening Statement at SASC Hearing on Military Sexual Assault
Survivors Share Sexual Assault Experiences in the Military [Video]
Air Force TSgt. Jennifer Norris Testified Before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington DC (January 23, 2013)
Defense Department Rescinds Direct Combat Exclusion Rule; Services to Expand Integration of Women into Previously Restricted Occupations and Units (January 24, 2013)
CBS News: Sexual assault victim, “The system is rigged” (May 16, 2013)
Stars and Stripes: ‘White House, Congress bear down on military sexual assault’ (May 16, 2013)
S. 967: Military Justice Improvement Act of 2013 – U.S. Senate Voting Record (March 6, 2014)
Vox: The War in Congress Over Rape in the Military, Explained (June 8, 2016)