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Friday’s announcement that sexual assault victims are no longer required to disclose assault-related mental health counseling when applying for federal security clearances already has led some military rape victims to make appointments for long-delayed counseling, said the policy director for the Service Women’s Action Network.
“We have heard from a lot of people since the interim policy was announced, including from some people who really were hanging on by their fingertips,” said Greg Jacob, a former Marine enlisted member and officer who consulted with government officials as a representative for SWAN, a human rights organization.
Jacob said military rape and sexual assault victims would have preferred a permanent change that included rewriting the security clearance questionnaire form, rather than interim guidance. Still, the announcement by the office of the director of national intelligence “both in the thought process and the actual change, is what we wanted,” he said.
Under the change, mental health treatment for sexual assault and rape does not have to be disclosed, an exemption similar to what was previously available to combat veterans who receive counseling for combat-related trauma.
Most applications for new or renewed security clearances are filled out online. When an applicant reaches Question 21, covering mental health counseling, a pop-up window will open explaining that sexual assault victims do not have to report treatment they received. For applicants filling out paper copies of the security questionnaire, accompanying guidance will explain the exemptions.
“This is a very big deal,” he said. “We know people have held off on counseling and treatment because of concern about their privacy, and account the potential for being denied a clearance if they received treatment.”
“This change is a huge victory for survivors of military sexual assault,” said Anu Bhagwati, SWAN’s executive director. “From numerous calls we receive on our helpline, we know that Question 21 has kept survivors from seeking the critical mental health services they have needed to heal in the aftermath of sexual assault.”