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AAUW supports STOP Act proposal

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POTSDAM - More than 200,000 women are in the active-duty military, making up 14.5 percent of the active-duty force. Nearly 3,200 cases of sexual assault in the military were reported in 2010, yet the Department of Defense estimates the actual number of assaults to be 19,000 since most cases are never reported.

Of the sexual assault cases actually reported to military officials, only 8 percent of the attackers in those cases were prosecuted in the military court system – compared with 40 percent of similar offenders prosecuted in the civilian court system.

And even if the military justice system convicts a perpetrator of sexual assault, military commanders outside of the courtroom are still able to throw out that conviction at their own discretion.

There are real people behind these very disturbing numbers. This crime wave against women in the military must be addressed. For far too long a blind eye has been tuned to the problem. Our servicewomen are in more danger from their brother soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines than the enemy. Congress is finally beginning to take this seriously.

A proposed bill in Congress called the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, or STOP Act, would create an independent, professional office in the military to investigate, and prosecute sexual assault, instead of leaving the decisions in the hands of commanders who can act at their own discretion. The STOP Act would still keep the authority over sexual assault cases in the military—just not in the hands of individual commanders who are not trained to handle these cases.

The STOP Act would take the prosecution, reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the normal chain of command and place jurisdiction in the hands of an autonomous Sexual Assault Oversight and Response Office.

This office would be comprised of civilian and military experts. The STOP Act would still keep the authority over sexual assault cases in the military—just not in the hands of individual commanders who are not trained to handle these cases.

All members of our nation’s armed forces have the right to be free from sexual assault. Yet in 2010, there were nearly 3,200 reported incidents of sexual assault in the military. The Defense Department estimates that due to the stigma attached to reporting an assault, the true number of assaults in 2010 may be as high as 19,000.

Ensuring adequate investigation and support for victims through the STOP Act is a first step toward eliminating the stigma of reporting sexual assault and fighting the prevalence of assault in the military.

Stronger rules and better enforcement are critical to the health and safety of the men and women in our nation’s armed forces. AAUW-St. Lawrence County urges Congressman Bill Owens to become a cosponsor of the STOP Act (H.R. 1593).

Membership in the St. Lawrence County Branch is open to anyone who supports the mission of AAUW. AAUW advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research.

AAUW, with its nationwide network of more than 100,000 members, more than 1,000 branches conducting programs in communities across the country, and 500 college and university partners, has been a leading advocate for equity and education for women and their families since 1881.

For more information about AAUW in St. Lawrence County, contact President Jennifer Ball at 268- 4208 or jball@clarkson.edu or Public Policy Chair Kathleen Stein at 386-3812, kstein1@twcny.rr.com, or visit the branch website, http://www.northnet.org/stlawrenceaauw/index.html

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