Turner wants Defense nominee to focus on sex assault in military

On the day Secretary of Defense nominee Ash Carter sat before a Senate committee tasked with approving his nomination, Rep. Mike Turner and two House Democrats sent Carter and the Senate a message: Don’t forget sexual assault.

“As Ash Carter’s confirmation hearing begins this week, we hope the Senate shares our bipartisan will and pushes Mr. Carter on military sexual assault prevention,” Turner, R-Dayton, and Reps. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said in a joint statement. “We urge Mr. Carter to prioritize military sexual assault and look forward to hearing his plan for supporting survivors and further preventing these heinous crimes.”

Turner and Tsongas, the widow of one-time Democratic presidential candidate Paul Tsongas, are co-founders and co-chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus in the House and have worked together on the issue for the last five years. Both are members of the House Armed Services Committee. For the past few years, every annual National Defense Authorization Act passed by Congress has included some measures authored by the two aimed at preventing and responding to sexual assault in the military.

Most recently, a bill written by Turner and Tsongas was folded into this year’s defense bill. The bill included measures that would limit soldiers’ ability to cite unrelated factors, such as military record in their defense; require commanders to be assessed on their ability to create a climate where a victim can report a crime without fear of retaliation; and require commanders and servicemembers be assessed on their support of sexual assault prevention and response policies.

The bill also included measures that ensured that all changes regarding military sexual assault prevention apply to the military service academies.

Turner and Tsongas have yet to push new measures, but the year is young, and substantive work on this year’s Defense bill is just beginning.

In their statement Wednesday, Turner, Tsongas and Slaughter credited current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel for showing “a willingness to work with Congress on this issue” and for taking steps to “change the military culture that has allowed these crimes to occur for too long.”

“But there is much more work to be done,” they wrote.

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