The new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has a little less unbridled testosterone in it than previous versions of the annual legislation thanks to Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who addressed two of her pet peeves in the law signed by President Barack Obama just before Halloween.
After U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named her in October to a powerful committee that negotiated the 2010 NDAA with senators, Sanchez succeeded in fulfilling her promise to require federal investigations into whether American soldiers are adequately combat ready and appropriately punished when they rape women.
The Comptroller-General now must probe how each branch of the military investigates and adjudicates cases involving soldiers accused of rape. Sanchez has called the issue "critical" because she believes the military has done a poor job punishing rapists and an even worse job assisting the victims of sexual assaults.
Caroline Hogan, the congresswoman's deputy press secretary in Washington, D.C., told me today that there's "an epidemic problem" of soldier rape going unreported and unpunished because of institutionalized barriers. Earlier this year, the Pentagon disclosed nearly an eight percent increase in sexual assaults committed by soldiers over previous periods. But perhaps what alarmed Sanchez more was the revelation that rapists were allowed to remain in the armed forces with little or, in some cases, no serious punishment. She says this fact "points to the ongoing, underlying issue" of certain heterosexual male soldiers harboring hatred for women.
When military leaders report back to Congress on the topic by next Halloween, Sanchez expects them to supply accurate information about assaults, the investigative process and punishment policies. They must also present an "action plan" aimed at reducing sex crimes.
OC's lone Democrat in Congress also used the NDAA to require the Pentagon to file a March 2010 report outlining combat readiness, particularly related to female soldiers and support staff.
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"The issue hasn't been adequately addressed yet and we know women are seeing combat situations more and more," said Hogan.
For her work on the NDAA, President Obama invited Sanchez--the highest ranking woman on the House Armed Services Committee and a constant symbolic thorn to the OC Republican Party--to the White House for the bill-signing ceremony.
She faces election challenges next year from Republican state Assemblyman Van Tran and businessman/ex-Marine Quang X. Pham.
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly