Sexual assault legal loophole prevents victim military transfers, lawmaker says

A Dayton congressman has introduced legislation to overturn a loophole that has prevented victims of sexual assault in domestic violence cases from an expedited base transfer in the military.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said legislation passed nearly a decade ago wasn’t meant to allow the loophole, but the Pentagon has diverted domestic violence cases to an office that determined it did not have the authority to grant an expedited transfer while victims of sexual assault were granted transfers under a separate office.

“What’s so shocking about this is that were finding that the Department of Defense still doesn’t get it,” Turner said. “The fact that they we’re letting some people have expedited transfer and some people not have, shows that that they don’t understand that it’s a safety and security issue.”

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The legislation was introduced as U.S. officials say reports of sexual assaults across the military jumped by nearly 10 percent in 2017, a year that saw a massive online nude-photo sharing scandal rock the services, triggering greater awareness of sexual harassment and other similar complaints.

Turner appeared at a press conference Tuesday in Dayton with Mary Lauterbach, mother of a slain Marine, and Dayton attorney Merle Wilberding, who worked with the congressman a decade ago to pursue the original legislation.

Lauterbach of Vandalia is the mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, 20, who was eight months pregnant when she was killed and her remains discovered in 2008. Fellow Marine Cesar Lauren was convicted of first-degree murder in connection with her death and was serving a life sentence in North Carolina.

Lauterbach was denied a base transfer after she accused the fellow Marine of sexual assault, newspaper archives show.

“That single step absolutely would have stepped her life,” said Lauterbach, who has traveled to bases around the globe to tell victims about the law since her daughter’s death. “It’s the most important thing that has happened.”

Turner’s Persist Against Military Sexual Assault Act also would direct the Pentagon to designate one person to provide oversight of the registered sex offender program, and give the Defense Advisory Committee on Investigation, Prosecution, and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces the right to mandate the government provide information the panel needs to carry out its duties, according to the congressman’s office.

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The overall increase in sexual assaults last year was fueled by a nearly 15-percent surge in sexual assault reports in the Marine Corps, while the Air Force and Navy both reported a 9 percent increase, and the Army 8 percent, according to the Pentagon.

Overall, there were 6,769 reports of sexual assaults in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, compared to 6,172 in 2016. The roughly 10 percent hike is the largest increase the Pentagon has seen since 2015.

Defense officials have argued that an increase in reported assaults is a positive trend, because it’s a highly under reported crime, both in the military and across society as a whole. Greater reporting, they argue, shows there is more confidence in the reporting system and greater comfort with the support for victims.

“This is not a good news story,” Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor and president of Protect Our Defenders, said in a statement. “Reports of sexual assaults jumped by 10 percent, and we do not know if this is a result of an increase in sexual assaults or an increase in victims to report or a combination of both. What we do know, the numbers are part of a continuing trend of a lack of accountability. Prosecution rates continue to plummet despite an ever-increasing number of reports. Moreover, actual convictions remain abysmally low.”

The Marines were at the center of last year’s online investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and launched a large public campaign to raise awareness of inappropriate behavior and beef up enforcement of social media rules and conduct.

RELATED: Pentagon chief calls sexual assault a cancer in the military

Last year, an anonymous survey that was part of the annual Defense Department report showed some progress in fighting sexual assault, as fewer than 15,000 service members described themselves as victims of unwanted sexual contact. That was 4,000 fewer than in a 2014 survey and a dramatic decline from the 26,000 in the 2012 survey.

The surveys are conducted every other year, so it’s impossible to determine if this year’s increase in reported assaults also corresponds with a decline in service members anonymously reporting inappropriate conduct.


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