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House votes to give more support to sex assault victims, improve investigations

Jul. 24, 2013 - 05:19PM   |  
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The House took two steps Wednesday to improve how the Defense Department handles sexual assault investigations.

By voice vote, the House set aside $65 million to track down people who may have been wrongly discharged for mental disorders after they reported a rape or assault, and $10 million to improve training for criminal investigators who cover sex crimes.

Both votes came on amendments to the 2014 defense appropriations bill and address problems discovered as lawmakers reviewed how sexual assault cases have been handled. The bills are sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif.

Military sexual assault victims have told Congress that reporting a rape or assault can often lead to the victim being forced out of the service for a mental disorder, especially in cases where the person who attacked them is a senior person in their command.

In an amendment supported by Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel, Speier proposed — and the House agreed — to have the military identify people who reported a sexual assault and were later separated for a mental health problem, giving them a chance to have their records reviewed.

Their discharge could be amended if the record appears to show the discharge was a result of retaliation.

The extra funding for criminal investigators comes after the Defense Department Inspector General found widespread flaws.

A IG report released July 15 found lapses in 72 percent of the 2010 criminal investigations of rape and sexual assault cases. In 11 percent of the cases, the errors were considered serious.

Speier said it is clear more training is needed because some of the problems involved basic investigative skills.

The report found problems with collecting key evidence or losing evidence, insufficiently thorough witness interviews, and no re-interviews of the victim, witnesses or the accused when new information was uncovered. All of the service investigative agencies had problems, the IG reported.

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