House bill calls for DOD to publish names of military sex offenders
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department would be required to publish a database of all convicted military sex offenders under new legislation introduced Thursday by House lawmakers.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., is aimed at closing a legal loophole allowing servicemembers to self-report their convictions to law enforcement — civilians are automatically added to such registries — while also making DOD sex crime records available to communities across the country.
The lawmakers said they are concerned those convicted in courts martial are leaving the services and disappearing back into civilian life where their past is unknown. A recent investigation by the Scripps news service found that 242 military sex offenders out of 1,300 cases examined were never recorded on any public registry, despite a federal law that makes it a felony to ignore reporting requirements.
“When you have somebody convicted of a sexual crime, the rate of recidivism is extremely high,” Coffman said. “Given the opportunity, they will re-offend.”
Speier said the bill creates a DOD registry for those convicted of rape, sexual assault and other sex-based offenses similar to the registries kept by local governments, states and law enforcement agencies across the country. The registries are designed to reduce repeat offenses by letting communities know if a sex offender is living nearby and what crimes they committed.
Sex offenders are required to register immediately after their convictions or when they are released from prison and report to authorities where they live, work and go to school. The bill would add the global and often transient military community to the system by requiring the DOD to perform and publish its own registry, rather than relying on other civilian authorities to distribute the information.
Speier said the DOD database would also include descriptions of each offender’s crimes beyond a list of military convictions such as “conduct unbecoming” that can obscure the nature of what was done. She recounted incidents in which a servicemember had several 12-year-olds walk on his chest in high heels, and touch his genitals. In another case, an airmen posed as a doctor and persuaded a woman to submit to pelvic exams even after a conviction for the same acts.
She said Thursday that there was no projected cost for the database and new reporting.
Don Christensen, a retired Air Force prosecutor and director of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, also came out in support of the legislation, saying it would help solve a much bigger problem with reducing and prosecuting sexual assault in the ranks.
“That makes this all the more absurd, that when we do bring these criminals to justice, they are essentially released into the civilian world and giving a clean slate,” he said.
A similar registry bill was introduced in the Senate last week by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
That legislation calls for military sex offenders to be automatically added into the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. But that database is used primarily by law enforcement and not accessible by the public.