Each week, the cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit appears on screen to solve some of the most violent cases of sexual assault in New York City. Unfortunately, as we all know, the trauma of sexual assault isn't limited to what we see on TV -- and in real life, far too many cases of sexual assault go unsolved.
The problem is particularly acute in our armed forces. Since 1997, I've led the effort in Congress to deal with the crisis of sexual assault in the military. Over the years I've authored numerous legislative amendments on the issue, and in 2010, I authored the Force Readiness Protection Act -- a bill designed to significantly improve the military's response for victims of sexual assault. Last year, many of the provisions of my bill were adopted into law.
In addition to my work in Congress, Secretary Leon Panetta and the Department of Defense have been particularly active in addressing the horror of sexual assault amongst our service women and men.
In December 2011, I commissioned a report from the Government Accountability Office that found that the military is improving the way it prosecutes and prevents cases of sexual assault. Of 25 recommended improvements, the military has fully implemented 13, and has begun implementing the remaining 12.
The Army, in particular, is on the cutting edge of sexual assault investigation and victim treatment. Though not well publicized, the Army has adapted the "Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview" into their response to sexual assault cases. This approach combines the best of interview techniques found to be successful with victims of child sexual assault, the principles of critical incident stress debriefings, and new neurobiology research to not just obtain facts from sexual assault victims but also to understand the three-dimensional experience of the crime.
The simple truth is that, for a victim of sexual assault, there is a monumental difference between what happened and what was experienced.
For years, some have tried to discredit sexual assault victims by highlighting the fact that the victim may have memory gaps during and after an assault. In some cases victims are discredited because they didn't scream while being attacked -- proof, some claim, that the victim wasn't being forced to act against their will.
Now, under the techniques adopted by the Army, these characteristics are being treated for what they are -- proof of psychological trauma because of a sexual assault. We now know that the brain of a victim often shuts down the pre-frontal cortex during an attack. In so doing, it physically prevents a victim from screaming for help.
Using techniques such as these, the Army has broken new ground in the way sexual assault cases are prosecuted and sexual assault victims are treated. The training that the Army is providing through their Special Victims Units has the opportunity to revolutionize the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases throughout our military and our country. These changes can lead to higher conviction rates and reduce the number of assaults. Already, the Army's training has been made available to civilian organizations such as the New York State Police Academy and schools within the State University of New York system -- important changes for victims of sexual assault.
Thanks to Secretary Panetta, military sexual assault investigators, victims' rights advocates and the soldiers of the United States military, we are making important progress when it comes to protecting the men and women who protect us. Quite simply, they deserve nothing less.
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