Herrera Beutler signs onto bill protecting whistle blowers in military rape cases

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler voted Thursday in favor of a bill that would provide protections for service members who report their sexual assaults or rapes to someone outside of the military. She also said stronger action is still needed to crack down on sexual offenses that occur within the military.

The Camas Republican has said she is leaning toward supporting the creation of an independent commission to investigate sexual assaults in the military. That statement came after she visited parts of Central Asia and the Middle East over Mother’s Day weekend. During her trip, she spoke with women in the military about the issue of sexual assault.

In May, Herrera Beutler said she understands that the military’s chain of command and autonomy is important, and that she believes most service members are honorable, but “that doesn’t mean we can set up a system by where violations happen over and over and over again, over decades. … We should have zero tolerance.”

She said the bill to protect military sexual assault victims who seek justice outside of the military is “an important first step.” That bill, H.R. 1864, passed the House unanimously on Thursday. Herrera Beutler was a cosponsor.

“I still believe that stronger action is needed,” she said in a statement, “but I’m pleased to help this effort in Congress to provide more protections to the victims of these horrific acts and punish perpetrators more severely.”

The public’s attention on military sexual assault was heightened earlier this year, after the Pentagon released a report on the number of victims in the military, and after an independent documentary on the topic was released.

According to the Pentagon report, an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults occurred last year in the military. That’s a 37 percent increase when compared to the previous year. About 6 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men surveyed said they experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact while serving in the military in 2012, according to the report.

Of the servicewomen who said they experienced unwanted sexual contact last year, 31 percent said they were raped and 26 percent said they experienced an attempted rape. Of the servicemen who said they experienced unwanted sexual contact last year, 10 percent said they were raped and 5 percent said they experienced an attempted rape. The rest said they experienced unwanted sexual contact or touching, or they did not specify the nature of the assault.

Herrera Beutler also recently voted in favor of the House’s National Defense Authorization Act, which would set minimum sentencing guidelines for sexual offenses in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, allow sexual assault victims to apply for a permanent change of military station or unit, and remove a military commander’s power to dismiss court martial findings or reduce guilty findings in sexual assault cases.

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu

Stevie Mathieu is a political writer at The Columbian. Contact her at 360-735-4523 or stevie.mathieu@columbian.com or www.facebook.com/reportermathieu or www.twitter.com/col_politics.

Scroll to top