Turner and Tsongas Help Military Sexual Assault Survivors BE HEARD

Today, Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-3) and I, Co-Chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, introduced the BE HEARD Act, new legislation that continues the lawmakers’ bipartisan effort to combat sexual assault in the military.

The Building an Environment for Helpful, Effective, and Accessible Representation and Decision-making (BE HEARD) Act would make it easier for survivors to have their voices heard by expanding specialized training for military Special Victims’ Counsel (SVCs), provide military sexual assault survivors with better access to federal appellate courts to protect their procedural rights, and ensure that the most vulnerable sexual assault survivors have someone to represent their legal interests throughout the military justice process. 

Sexual assault in the military is unacceptable. I am proud to continue my bipartisan work with Congresswoman Tsongas to fight this injustice by introducing the BE HEARD Act today. BE HEARD will require Special Victims Counsel to undergo specialized training to better understand how survivors cope with the trauma of military sexual assault. BE HEARD also explicitly reinforces survivors’ rights throughout the judicial process, expanding access to the military’s highest court and ensuring timely legal representation while also improving protections for individuals who cannot represent themselves.

“BE HEARD will help amplify the voices of sexual assault survivors so that they receive the services and representation they deserve,” said Congresswoman Tsongas. “In addition to bolstering the critical work of the Special Victims Counsel program, this bill improves the ability of survivors to be heard in appeals and improves representation for child victims of sexual assault. The BE HEARD Act takes important steps to correct deficiencies in the military justice system. I thank Rep. Turner for his utmost dedication to this cause and for his longstanding partnership, and I look forward to our continued work together.”

Protect Our Defenders, a national organization aimed at ending military sexual assault, supports the BE HEARD Act: “Last year, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Services (CAAF) slammed the door shut on survivors seeking protection of their rights during the court-martial process by finding that it lacked jurisdiction to review a survivor's challenge to a trial judge's order that violated a protected privacy interest. This erroneous interpretation ignored the intent of Congress in granting victims' explicit rights, and effectively denied survivors access to the court going forward in order to enforce their rights and prevent abuse,” said Colonel Don Christensen, Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor and President of Protect Our Defenders. “The BE HEARD Act reverses this barrier to justice by explicitly giving CAAF jurisdiction of survivor appeals of trial court rulings that violate their rights. The Act ensures survivors have access to the nation's highest military court, and gives survivors the ability to protect their rights at every step in the military criminal system.”  

Specifically, the BE HEARD Act:  

  1. Requires that SVCs receive specialized training on how men are impacted by sexual assault;
  2. Allows the military’s highest court to hear the appeals of sexual assault survivors on decisions while a trial is ongoing; and
  3. Permits military judges to appoint legal representatives for sexual assault survivors who are minors or who are otherwise incapable of representing themselves before charges are filed against a reported perpetrator. 

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