LOWELL -- Congresswoman Niki Tsongas released the following statement following today's announcement by the Pentagon that the Secretary is issuing new policies to address sexual assault in the military:
"Many of the regulations Secretary Hagel announced today are based on provisions from a bill I drafted in collaboration with Congressman Mike Turner, Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator Susan Collins.
"That bill, the Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments Act (BE SAFE Act; H.R. 2207), is well on its way to becoming law -- it passed as part of the House Defense Authorization bill and is included in the Senate version of the Defense Authorization Act that passed out of committee.
"Like the rules the Secretary announced today, the BE SAFE Act, 1) provides an expanded role for victims during the sentencing phase of a court-martial, 2) requires that sexual assault reports are immediately brought to the attention of high level commanding officers, 3) requires that commanders consider transferring a reported offender while an investigation into a sexual assault is ongoing and 4) requires the military provide qualified and specially trained lawyers to victims of sex-related offenses.
"The victim counsel provision, in particular, means that sexual assault survivors will have a dedicated legal specialist by their side to shepherd them through the legal process and improve their ability to seek justice more effectively.
"Today's announcement by the Secretary is a step in the right direction, but will not slow my efforts to have the BE SAFE Act passed into law nor our fight in Congress to prevent military sexual assault.
"I believe that no one piece of legislation or set of regulations will solve this problem, and that Congress must act with continued scrutiny and diligence. Other well-intended measures are still being considered before Congress and an independent review panel has recently begun an intensive examination of the systems used to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate sexual assault crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. These top legal, military and sexual assault experts will provide an impartial and informative guide on further reforming the current system and will help us ensure future changes to provide the utmost benefit to survivors."