Attorney General Bonta Supports Legislation to Improve the Prevention and Prosecution of Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Military

Thursday, November 11, 2021
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a bipartisan coalition in urging Congress to pass the Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act (The Act), legislation that would address serious, longstanding problems in the prosecution of sexual assault and harassment within the military. The Act would further professionalize how the military prosecutes serious crimes by moving the decision to prosecute from the chain of command to independent, trained, professional military prosecutors. Additionally, the Act would and provide for several new prevention provisions, such as better training for commanders, and increased physical security measures while ensuring that commanders still have the ability to provide strong leadership and ensure a successful command climate. The current process for prosecuting serious crimes in the military does not adequately account for the complexity of these cases, or the likelihood that bias may affect how sexual assaults and other serious offenses are investigated and charged. In today’s letter, the coalition applauds the Act and highlights the need for critical changes in the way in which sexual assault and other serious offenses are investigated and prosecuted within the military.

“It is clear that the way in which our military currently handles sexual assault cases is unacceptable and requires immediate action. We must do everything in our power to protect our service members from sexual assault and ensure that victims receive justice for the trauma and pain that they have endured,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Today, I express my wholehearted support for this necessary legislation, and urge Congress to quickly remedy the long-standing issues surrounding the prevention and prosecution of sexual assault and harassment within the military. My office stands with the survivors of sexual assault, and we express our utmost respect and care for those who serve our country.”

Each year, thousands of service members experience sexual assault while serving and protecting our country. In 2018, the Department of Defense reported that almost 21,000 service members had experienced sexual assault despite repeated efforts to address sexual harassment and assault in the military. Out of the service members who experience sexual assault, only a small percentage of victims actually report it, as it often results in retaliation such as professional reprisal, ostracism, and maltreatment. For those that do report sexual assault, the results are often devastating, as only nine percent of reported assaults ever result in a conviction. Additionally, the military's failure to prevent and redress sexual assault has hurt the readiness of our armed forces and resulted in significant trauma to our nation’s heroes.

In today’s letter, the bipartisan coalition expresses their strong support for the Act, and urges Congress to swiftly pass this legislation to ensure the protection of our service members. Passing the Act would support the ongoing work of state attorneys general to protect sexual assault victims and advocate on behalf of service members and veterans by ensuring that military sexual assault is properly reported and prosecuted.

Specifically, the legislation would: 

  • Move the decision of whether to prosecute serious crimes to independent, trained, and professional military prosecutors, while leaving misdemeanors and uniquely military crimes within the chain of command. By moving this work off of the commander’s plate, it will empower commanders to focus on mission critical activities—while specifically preserving the authorities that a commander needs to provide strong leadership and a successful command climate.
  • Ensure the Department of Defense supports criminal investigators and military prosecutors through the development of unique skills needed to properly handle investigations and cases related to serious crimes including sexual assault and domestic violence. 
  • Require the Secretary of Defense to survey and improve the physical security of military installations – including locks, security cameras, and other passive security measures – to increase safety in lodging and living spaces for service members. 
  • Increase, and improve training and education on military sexual assault throughout our armed services. This training would help shift the culture in the military and ensure that the armed services can enforce a no-tolerance zone for sexual assault and other grievous crimes.

Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Illinois, Nebraska, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

A copy of the comment letter can be found here.

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