Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have adopted the conference report accompanying House Bill 4310, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.
The legislation includes a subtitle called, “Improved Sexual Assault Prevention and Response in the Armed Forces.” H.R. 4310, §§ 570-79.
The bill establishes panels to conduct two significant studies of military sexual assault cases. It also requires the creation of “special victim capabilities” to investigate and prosecute child abuse, serious domestic violence, or sexual offense cases. The legislation also adopts some new policies, including requiring “processing for administrative separation of any member of the Armed Forces . . . whose conviction for a covered offense is final and who is not punitively discharged.” § 572(a)(2). Covered offenses include rape and sexual assault under Article 120, forcible sodomy under Article 125, and any attempt to commit one of those offenses. This provision would reportedly require the Air Force and Army to adopt the existing Department of the Navy policy requiring such processing.
The bill requires each service to establish “special victim capabilities” for “investigating and prosecuting allegations of child abuse, serious domestic violence, or sexual offenses” and ”providing support for the victims of such offenses.” § 573(a). Such special victim capabilities means “a distinct, recognizable group of appropriately skilled professionals” — including judge advocates, investigators, and victim witness assistance personnel — “who work collaboratively to” investigate and prosecute child abuse, serious domestic violence, and sex offense cases, as well as to support the victims of such offenses. § 573(g).
The legislation requires SECDEF to “prescribe standards for the training, selection, and certification of personnel who will provide special victim capabilities for a military department.” § 573(c). The services are required to have initial special victim capabilities, including judge advocate support, in place within a year of the bill’s enactment. § 573(e)(2).
The bill also requires SECDEF to “establish a panel to conduct an independent review and assessment of the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate crimes involving adult sexual assault and related offenses under” Article 120 “for the purpose of developing recommendations regarding how to improve the effectiveness of such systems.” § 576(a). The panel will compare military and civilian conviction rates for sexual assault offenses. The panel will assess strengths and weaknesses of proposals to revise commanders’ role in military sexual assault cases. The panel will also consider whether sentencing guidelines should be used in the military justice system. The panel will also assess the training level of military defense counsel and prosecutors compared to their civilian counterparts. The panel will consist of nine members, five appointed by SECDEF, and one each by the HASC and SASC chairmen and ranking members.
The bill also requires SECDEF to appoint a separate panel to conduct an independent review and study of judicial proceedings conducted under Article 120 as revised by the NDAA for FY 2012, which applies to offenses committed on or after 28 June 2012. § 576(b). This panel will have five members, including two from the panel discussed in the paragraph above.
The legislation also provides for additional training for prospective commanders on handling sexual assault allegations and fostering a command climate that deters sexual assaults. § 574. Training on similar topics is required for servicemembers upon entry onto active duty or duty with a reserve component.
The legislation also provides expanded requirements for command-conducted climate assessments and SECDEF-conducted workplace surveys. The legislation also provides enhanced requirements for the content of unrestricted reports of sexual assault and retention of those reports as well as enhanced requirements for case synopses included within reports of dispostion of sexual assault cases.
The legislation also requires SECDEF to develop a comprehensive policy to prevent and respond to sexual harassment. § 579.