Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today praised the Senate’s passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015, which includes a provision based on her legislation to improve training for military sexual assault forensic examiners. The bill was approved by the House last week and now goes to President Obama for his signature.

The provision, based on the Military SAFE Standards Act – legislation introduced by Senators Boxer and Susan Collins (R-ME) in July – requires the Department of Defense to standardize eligibility, assignment, training and certification requirements for sexual assault forensic examiners across all services. The measure is endorsed by 20 national nursing organizations. 

“I am so pleased that Congress came together to include this bipartisan measure in this year’s Defense Authorization bill,” Senator Boxer said. “Ensuring that survivors of military sexual assault have access to trained forensic examiners is critical to bringing the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to justice.” 

In the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault, victims are encouraged to visit a health facility to obtain a forensic exam—better known as a rape kit—which preserves DNA and other physical evidence that can be used to prosecute sex offenders. Due to the lengthy and complex nature of these exams, medical professionals must go through specialized training in order to become forensic examiners. However, the Defense Department’s training standards have not been adequately standardized across all military services.  

The need for legislative action is underscored by the jarring disparities in training standards between services. The Army and Air Force, for example, require their examiners to complete 40 hours of course work and receive hands-on clinical experience in order to become forensic examiners while the Navy only requires their examiners to view a 14.5 hour DVD. Moreover, Navy medical providers told the Government Accountability Office that in the event a ship is not staffed by a trained forensic examiner and a sexual assault victim cannot be transferred to the nearest trained provider, Navy medical providers would “do their best to conduct the forensic examination using the instructions provided with the examination kits.”  

Specifically, the provision:  

     • Outlines specific providers who are eligible to be assigned to duty as a sexual assault forensic examiner.
     • Requires training and certification programs for sexual assault forensic examiners to be standardized across all military services, to be conducted by highly trained and qualified clinical professionals, and to incorporate and reflect best practices and standards.
     • Requires the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on the adequacy of the training and qualifications for individuals assigned as sexual assault forensic examiners and any improvements necessary in the processes for selection and training and certification of forensic examiners.
     • Revises problematic language enacted in the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act regarding training and availability of sexual assault forensic nurses.