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Date: December 14 2012

NEW YORK - Today the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urging him to reconsider his objections to an amendment in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that would help survivors of sexual assault.

Secretary Panetta objected to the amendment in a letter to Rep “Buck” McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee dated December 11th. Secretary Panetta urged the conference committee to reject a provision that would require the military to retain records of certain sexual assault reports for 50 years, stating that such a rule would “affect the Department’s ability to operate efficiently and effectively.”

The bi-partisan amendment, introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), would benefit victims of sexual assault who file anonymous or “restricted” reports by keeping the records of their assault for 50 years. Currently, the Department of Defense (DOD) only preserves restricted reports for 5 years. Last year the DOD changed their records retention policy for service members who do not file anonymous reports to 50 years, but left anonymous reports alone.

“Objecting to this amendment makes no sense,” said Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network and former Marine Corps Captain. “Sexual assault survivors need documentation of their in-service sexual assault for their medical and mental health treatment and so they can file VA claims once they are out of the military. Under the previous policy, the military destroyed these records after 2 -5 years, effectively wiping out any proof that a sexual assault had ever happened.”

“Whether the report is restricted or unrestricted doesn’t matter,” Bhagwati said. “The nature of the report does not determine the survivor’s need for the documentation. It should in no way determine whether a report is kept for five years or five decades.”

The letter goes on to state that unless there is a “clear, compelling reason involving national security to destroy reports of sexual assault, the DOD policy for preserving restricted and unrestricted reports should be the same.”

SWAN staff is available for appearance, comment and interview.

SWAN is a national nonpartisan civil rights organization founded and led by women veterans. SWAN’s mission is to transform military culture by securing equal opportunity and the freedom to serve in uniform without discrimination, harassment or assault; and to reform veterans’ services to ensure high quality health care and benefits for women veterans and their families. You can follow Service Women’s Action Network on Twitter at, or on Facebook at

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