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Congresswoman Escobar Introduces Legislation to Ensure Justice in Harassment and Prohibited Discrimination Complaints in the Military

This morning, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar (TX-16), along with the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee Chair, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-14), introduced H.R. 9163, the Advancing Justice for our Servicemembers Act. This legislation would set a time limit for processing complaints of harassment and discrimination made by members of the Armed Services, as well as allow servicemembers to seek review or appeal in a U.S. court.  

“Our men and women in the military shouldn’t have to wait for justice after reporting sexual assault, harassment, or prohibited discrimination,” said Congresswoman Escobar. “This bill is for all the victims of harassment or discrimination who feel unheard or unseen. Each of these cases should be treated with the urgency they deserve. Expediting them and providing additional avenues to seek justice should help remedy the grievances I’ve heard from the brave men and women who have come forward. By ensuring complaints are heard and addressed in a timely manner, we create an environment where 20-year-old U.S. Army soldier Vanessa Guillen, who was murdered by a harasser she had complained about, would still be with us today.

“We know that sexual harassment begets sexual assault, and that discrimination of any kind seeks to silence those suffering injustice. And the numbers don’t lie, both sexual assault incidents and prevalence military wide have spiked by 35 percent for servicewomen and more than doubled for servicemen. Sexual harassment incidents have increased by 20 percent. And trust and faith in the military to eliminate this insidious scourge and bring survivors justice is down,” Rep. Speier said. “Ensuring that complaints from servicemembers of harassment or discrimination are completed within 180 days, and allowing servicemembers to seek review or appeal in a U.S. court of law if they choose to do so after the 180 period is exhausted is a critical component of addressing this crisis and rebuilding faith and trust in the brave women and men who serve our country. I am proud to join Rep. Escobar in introducing this much needed legislation and in our continued work to see that perpetrators of harassment and discrimination are held to account. We must do this to ensure justice for survivors and to eliminate the environment in which assault, abuse, and degradation thrives.”

“The American military continues to be plagued by the scourge of pervasive sexual harassment that rips at the fabric of the force. Currently, survivors who report sexual harassment endure extraordinarily long delays awaiting final resolution of their allegations. Delayed resolutions devastate service members seeking justice and discourage others from coming forward, which negatively impacts retention and force readiness,” said Don Christensen, President of Protect Our Defenders. Representative Escobar's legislation establishing a firm 180 day time limit for processing sexual harassment complaints will ensure the military provides service members with timely investigations and responses to their complaints.  Protect Our Defenders is proud to endorse this legislation.  

"We want to thank Congresswoman Escobar for her leadership on this issue requiring transparency and accountability throughout the Armed Services, Never Alone Advocacy supports this legislation," said Amy Braley Franck, Founder and CEO of Never Alone Advocacy. 

The Advancing Justice for our Servicemembers Act would add a new section to chapter 80 of title 10 of the United States Code to establish a 180-day time limit for processing administrative complaints of harassment or discrimination made by servicemembers. Currently, there is no timeline in the Department of Defense’s policy for harassment and prohibited discrimination complaints, which arguably limits the effectiveness of these policies. This legislation is intended to ensure investigations are completed in a timely manner in situations where lower-level members of the chain of command are not diligently investigating a complaint. Specifically, this bill: 

  • Designates a time limit of 180 days for investigations conducted under the existing harassment prevention and prohibited discrimination programs established by the Department of Defense.  
  • Contains two types of judicial review: 
  • One addresses circumstances when an investigation is not completed in a timely manner or the investigation’s findings are not provided to the complainant.  
  • The other incorporates a limited judicial review commonly applied to certain other administrative decisions in a military department. 

The Advancing Justice for our Servicemembers Act has been endorsed by Protecting Our Defenders, Never Alone Soldiers, and Pink Berets

The full text of the bill can be found here.  

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