Balderson proposes bipartisan, bicameral bill to reform U.S. military’s sexual assault response

U.S. Rep. Troy Balderson (R-OH) joined a bipartisan group of almost 100 lawmakers in introducing a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would reform the U.S. military’s response to missing service members and reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“Ohio is home to thousands of active duty service members who risk their lives for our nation,” Rep. Balderson said. “In return, it’s our country’s obligation to ensure their safety.”

The congressman on Sept. 16 signed on as one of 99 original cosponsors of the I am Vanessa Guillén Act, H.R. 8270, with bill sponsor U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) to amend the U.S. Code toward improving the responses of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to sex-related offenses, according to the congressional record bill summary.

The proposed bill is named in recognition of the late Vanessa Guillén, a 20-year-old U.S. Army soldier who was murdered on April 22 inside a Fort Hood, Texas, armory by another enlisted soldier.

“In honor of Vanessa Guillén, this legislation will take important steps to ensure survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment in our military can tell their stories without retribution and seek the justice they deserve,” said Rep. Balderson.

If enacted, H.R. 8270 would move prosecution decisions on sexual assault and sexual harassment cases outside of the chain of command to an Office of the Chief Prosecutor within each military service, and would create a standalone military offense for sexual harassment, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Balderson’s office.

Additionally, the bill would establish trained sexual harassment investigators who are outside of the chain of command of the complainant and the accused, and create a confidential reporting process for sexual harassment that is integrated with DOD’s Catch a Serial Offender database, among other provisions, according to the summary.

Rep. Balderson on Sept. 16 met with the Guillén family to discuss the proposed bill and then joined the family in a Capitol Hill press conference to share Vanessa’s story and introduce the legislation.