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Sexual assault in the military isn’t a new thing—in fact, it’s a problem that military and government officials have been aware of for decades. But in our collective memory, attention is generally only paid to it once every few years, when something horrific breaks through, like the Marines United nude photo scandal happens, when the public is briefly outraged by the scope and depth of the problem and then forgets about it once again.

That’s not so for this week’s guest on Big Time Dicks, Rep. Jackie Speier, who has been speaking out on behalf of sexual assault survivors in the military (and in general) for years. Rep. Speier spoke to us about a piece of legislation she wrote—the Servicemembers Intimate Privacy Protection Act, which forbids the distribution of intimate images without the consent of the subjects—and the work she’s doing to make the military safer for women. She also noted that the recent change in Navy regulations also prohibiting the sharing revenge porn is insufficient.

“That’s a regulation, and for it to have the full force of law it would have to be included in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, coupled with the fact that the regulation is poorly drafted, I must say,” Speier explains. She also noted that the regulation includes an “intent requirement,” which means that, to be found guilty, the perpetrator needs to also be found to have had intent to profit from the distribution, or intent to humiliate, or reckless disregard for the well-being of the depicted person. This requirement is extremely hard to prove, and doesn’t take into consideration cases in which the perpetrator doesn’t know the victim.

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We also discussed the fraught chain of command in the military when it comes to investigating cases of harassment and assault—in many of them, the commander of the survivor and/or the perpetrator is in charge of investigations. Speier and several of her colleagues in the House and Senate have been attempting, unsuccessfully, to pass legislation that would put an objective body in charge of the investigations.

“There is no way that the military wants to somehow have their power diminished,” Speier said. “Members of Congress have been willing to continue to support the military in their position, in part, I think, because they don’t want to seem to be unpatriotic. But I would hasten to say if you’re really patriotic, you want to make sure that all members of the military feel protected. And when you have military members that are more likely to be injured by their fellow service member than they are by the enemy, we’ve got a huge problem.”


Big Time Dicks can be found on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, iHeart Radio, and on the NPR One app.

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