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Policy, legislation, and litigation

The military system is controlled through government legislation and policy. Current policy in the DoD is governed by the following two documents:

  1. DoD Directive 6495.01The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.
  2. DoD Instruction 6595.02, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Procedures.

Laws passed by Congress influence proceedings, benefits, and accessibility of services for service members and veterans. Resources in this section discuss various policy issues, legislation that impacts military survivors, and litigation that presses for system-wide reform. Law and policy directly impact service members who experience sexual violence because these factors can create an unsafe environment for reporting (Turchik & Wilson, 2008). These factors also influence access to disability benefits in the VA system.  Due to policy changes, the Veterans Health Administration must screen all veterans for military sexual trauma (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2005) and provide free medical and mental health care for anyone that claims they experienced MST.

Turchik and Wilson (2008) discussed the challenges that survivors face when military law perpetuates rape myths. Legislation that only recognizes that women can be sexually assaulted reinforces the myth that men cannot experience sexual violence. See the excerpt from Turchik and Wilson (2008) below, which discusses legally imposed limitations:

“Also, the Article 120 rape law still excludes the possibility of male victims of rape, although male rape can be punished under other sexual assault laws in this article. Articles 120 and 125 also allow for the fact that two people are married to be an affirmative defense for several of the sexual assault crimes and this defense should be eliminated to prevent and legitimize marital sexual assault.”

Until recently, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy likely deterred men and women who identified as LGBTQ from making an unrestricted report of sexual assault. These men and women may have been concerned that doing so would disclose personal information that could result in discharge. Turchik and Wilson (2008) also contended that perpetrators could also use the threat of “outing,” whether true or not, to keep the person from disclosing sexual violence. 

In 2011, Burke, LLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of women and men who experienced sexual assault while serving in the military, challenging that the current and former Secretaries of Defense "failed to prevent Plaintiffs and others from being raped and sexually assaulted" (Burke, LLC).  Despite the many reports and changes regarding sexual assault response and policy, more change and action is needed.