Representatives Mia Love (R-UT), Annie Kuster (D-NH), and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) applauded the passage of a key provision from their legislation to protect military survivors of sexual assault as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). 

Their provision addresses what the military calls “collateral misconduct” – violations of military rules committed by sexual assault survivors, which are often minor offenses. Despite the comparatively inconsequential nature of offenses, collateral misconduct is “one of the most significant barriers” to service members reporting sexual assaults, according to the Department of Defense’s own policy, which has been in place since 2004.

The measure included in the NDAA requires the first ever large-scale and independent review of prosecutions and punishments that target service members who survive sexual assaults. In addition to the NDAA amendment, today Love, Kuster, and Dingell also introduced a bill featuring more comprehensive reforms, including annual reports to Congress and database tracking of collateral misconduct.

“I am proud to stand with my colleagues to introduce this important bipartisan legislation,” said Love. “The threat of punishment for collateral misconduct is a serious barrier to reporting sexual assault within the military. While the brave men and women who serve our nation face many threats, this should never be one of them.”

“The fact that serious crimes against members of our military go unreported and unpunished because of a preoccupation with minor mistakes made by survivors is unacceptable,” said Kuster. “The fear of repercussion is a serious barrier to survivors of sexual assault coming forward with their allegations. We must work to ensure that no service member is forced to endure sexual violence because they fear coming forward.”

“No survivor anywhere—including in the ranks of our military—should have to live in fear of reporting a sexual assault or other serious crimes,” said Dingell. “The practice of ‘collateral misconduct’ must stop, and I am proud to join my colleagues in this important effort. By reporting and tracking its prevalence we can better understand this conduct and institute reforms to empower every soldier, sailor, marine, airman, and coast guardsman to speak out.”

The amendment included today directs the Defense Advisory Committee on Investigations, Prosecution, and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces (DAC-IPAD) to conduct a review of this issue.

The policy recognizes that survivors often choose to remain silent rather than risk derailing their military careers in pursuit of justice. Consequently, their assailants go unpunished. Before Wednesday’s vote, congressional efforts to reform collateral misconduct policies have largely failed to gain the bipartisan support needed to become law. 

Currently, the military neither tracks collateral misconduct nor reports to Congress about them as part of its annual report on sexual assault.

If approved by the Senate and signed into law, the amendment stipulates the first in a series of on-going reports will be completed by Sept. 30, 2019. The inaugural filing will be followed with reports every two years thereafter.