California SB 352 Removes Restrictions on Military Sexual Assault Charges

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What is California SB 352 and How Does it Impact Military Sex Crimes?

What is California SB 352 and How Does it Impact Military Sex Crimes?

Jan 6, 2022

On April 22, 2020, Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old soldier stationed at the Fort Hood Army Base, disappeared. Shortly before her disappearance, Guillen told her mother she had been sexually harassed by a fellow soldier.

On June 30 of that year, Guillen’s remains were discovered near the Leon River in Bell County, Texas. Hours after the discovery, Aaron Robinson, the Army soldier believed to be responsible for Guillen’s murder, shot and killed himself.

Guillen’s tragic death sparked an online movement, with thousands of U.S. servicewomen sharing their own experiences of sexual harassment and assault. #IamVanessaGuillen was posted along with countless survivor stories on social media. The movement has caused what Time magazine referred to as a “transformation” in how sexual assault is reported within the U.S. Military.

Said transformation has taken place at both the federal and state levels, with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) being passed last month and California Senate Bill 352 (SB 352) passing in September. The former makes sexual harassment a crime for the first time under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The latter, SB 352, removes limitations on sexual assault or harassment charges while serving in the military under California law.

This blog will look at SB 352 in greater detail and offer information regarding how to file a civil claim in the event of a sexual assault incident.

What is California SB 352?

California Senate Bill 352 was signed into legislation by Governor Gavin Newsom on September 16, 2021, and officially took effect on January 1 of this year. Prior to the passage of SB 352, sexual assault or harassment could not be prosecuted – either criminally or civilly – within the U.S. Military.

With SB 352 in effect, sexual assault and harassment are now considered stand-alone offenses under California’s incorporation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. SB 352 effectively removes any question over whether sexual assault or harassment are punishable within California’s military ranks.

As an article co-authored by the Lieutenant Governor of California, Eleni Kounalakis, and State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman noted in July:

The bill’s message of zero tolerance for sexual harassment conveys an important message to both victims (who might be less likely to report sexual harassment without clear indication that it is a punishable offense) and potential perpetrators.

Section 1 of SB 352 includes the following language (sections D and E):

  • Eradicating sexual harassment within our military forces is the next step in ensuring that California remains the leader in providing unparalleled protections to members of the military.
  • The California Military Department is among the best in the nation at implementing a robust Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. Making sexual harassment a standalone offense will allow Commanders in the California National Guard to lead the nation in proactive sexual assault prevention by giving them a tool to discipline or remove from the ranks service members guilty of sexual harassment before their misconduct can escalate to sexual assault.

Additionally, SB 352 clarifies that sex crimes committed by military members while on duty are not protected from civil or criminal liability. Furthermore, the bill requires that statistical data from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Report – a database for documenting sex crimes – be released.

For the full text of California SB 352, click here.

Sexual Harassment Offenders More Likely to Commit Sexual Assault

In 2019, a Department of Defense report found that perpetrators who commit sexual harassment are more likely to commit sexual assault. Accordingly, an April 2019 Department of Defense Joint Service Committee on Military Justice recommended that sexual harassment be a stand-alone offense.

The passage of legislation at the federal and state levels is aligned with views shared by a majority of the American public. In 2013, a Pew Research study confirmed that 81% of Americans view sexual assault in the military as an “extremely important or very important issue.”

Sexual Assault in the Military Statistics

According to Dordulian Law Group’s partner organization, RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), among members of the military who are sexually assaulted, only 43% of female survivors and 10% of male survivors report their crimes.

Additionally, the RAND Corporation, a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges, reports the following statistics:

  • One in 16 women and one in 143 men are estimated to experience sexual assault within the Department of Defense.
  • At military service academies, one in six women and one in 29 men experience sexual assault.
  • One in four women and one in 16 men are estimated to experience sexual harassment within the military.
  • Deterrence alone is insufficient to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Reporting a Sexual Assault or Harassment Crime

The RAND Corporation further notes significant underreporting among U.S. Military members who experience sexual assault or harassment:

  • In 2018, there were 6,053 reported sexual assaults, compared with the estimated prevalence from surveys suggesting that over 20,000 service members were sexually assaulted.
  • In 2019, the military services and the National Guard Bureau processed and investigated over 1,600 formal and informal complaints of sexual harassment. However, in a survey of active duty service members in 2018, approximately 119,000 individuals reported experiencing sexual harassment in the previous 12 months.
  • Social and professional retaliation against sexual assault survivors is perceived to be common.

Ready to file a claim and pursue justice through a financial damages award? Our expert attorneys are available online or by phone now.

If you’re a survivor of military sexual assault and wish to report a crime or file a civil claim, contact a member of Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) Sex Crimes Division today at 818-322-4056 for a free, confidential, and no obligation consultation.

Founded by a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, DLG has assembled a dedicated team to help survivors of sexual assault obtain justice. When you’re ready to report a sex crime on your own terms, we’re here to listen, to believe you, and to fight for maximum financial compensation on your behalf.

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