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Oversight Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military

July 31, 2008

The Oversight Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs is currently holding a hearing, “Sexual Assault in the Military.” Panel one will be Reps. Louise Slaughter (NY-28) and Jane Harman (CA-36); panel two will be Ingrid Torres, MSW, CSW and Mary Lauterbach, Mother of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach; panel three will include representatives of the Defense Department, the Army, and the GAO.

Watch the hearing live >>

Subcommittee Chairman John Tierney gives opening remarks:

Chairman Tierney: “What’s at stake here goes to the very core of the values of the military and the nation itself. When our sons and daughters put their lives on the line to defend the rest of us, the last thing they should fear is being attacked by one of our own. We fundamentally have a duty to prevent sexual assaults in the military as much as humanly possible, and to punish attackers quickly and severely. We also must empower victims so they feel comfortable coming forward to seek justice and to receive help to get their lives back on track and to restore their dignity. Finally, we simply must ensure a climate in our military where sexual assault is in no way, either officially or unofficially, condoned, ignored, or tolerated.”

Rep. Slaughter testifies:

Rep. Slaughter: “Those who enlist to serve expect to sacrifice their safety to protect Americans from foreign enemies, but they do not and should not expect to have to defend themselves from their fellow service members. Unfortunately, women have suffered in silence for decades, but as a result of courageous women sharing their stories of being sexually assaulted, we decided to act. In March 2004, as co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, I held a hearing on this issue. I will never forget one of the witnesses who talked about the horror for her of having to salute her rapist every day. She finally left the military.”

Rep. Harman testifies:

Rep. Harman: “Women serving in the US military today are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq. The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus for me during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Health Center where I met female veterans and their doctors. My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41% of the female veterans seen there say there were victims of sexual assault while serving in the military, and 29% said they were raped during their military service.”

Ingrid Torres testifies:

Torres: “The road after sexual assault is a long and challenging one. As is typical of violent crime, I suffer from PTSD, violent nightmares, and depression. I still wake in the night, he still comes after me in my dreams… Because of the impending courts martial, I was advised not to talk openly about the case, which caused rumors and misconceptions to run rampant. There was no escaping it and no making it better. The hostility grew with my silence…Ultimately, our society still publicly and privately tries the victims in sexual assault cases. Rape is the only crime where the victim has to prove their innocence.”

Subcommittee Chairman Tierney and Full Committee Chairman Waxman threaten Michael Dominguez, Principal Deputy Undersecretary for Defense, with contempt after he reveals that he has ordered Dr. Kaye Whitley of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office to defy a subpoena to appear:

Chairman Waxman: “Do we have to subpoena the Secretary to get people in the Department to come before us? We subpoenaed her, you’ve denied her the opportunity to come and testify and put her in a situation where we have to contemplate putting her in contempt. I don’t even know if we can hold you in contempt because you haven’t been issued a subpoena. Mr. Chairman, the Department of Defense has a history of covering up sexual offense problems. We all remember Tailhook and the scandal and how the military tried to cover that up. And I don’t know what you’re trying to cover up here, but we’re not going to allow it, we’re going to talk further about what recourse we have. I don’t know if we need to subpoena the Secretary and then hold him in contempt, Mr. Chiu and hold him in contempt — you, and hold you in contempt. Those are better options to me than to hold her in contempt when she’s put in this untenable position when her line of command instructs her not to comply with a subpoena of the United States Congress. I don’t know who you think elected you to defy the Congress of the United States, we’re an independent branch of government…”