Rape survivors serving in the military and other Defense Department employees and contractors will no longer be forced to reveal whether they received mental health counseling when applying for positions requiring governnment security clearance.
Bloomberg News reported on Friday that the ruling by the Office of Director of National Intelligence will ask applicants for national security-related jobs who have received counseling for sexual assault to answer “no” to question No. 21 on the federal application questionnaire, an exemption similar to the one granted for applicants who have received family, grief, or marriage counseling.
“Victims of sexual assault will be encouraged to seek the mental-health services they may need while feeling safe that their privacy protections are strictly enforced,” said deputy assistant director for special security Charles Sowell on Friday, adding that the question will also be subject to a broader review.
The question asks whether applicants have sought professional help for “an emotional or mental- health condition” during the seven years prior to their application date.
Anonymous surveys estimate about 19,000 sexual assaults a year in the military, with a much smaller amount being reported. According to Think Progress, survivors have in the past refused counseling out of fear of hurting their career prospects. But Friday’s ruling has already drawn praise from victims’ advocacy groups and former service members.
“This will save careers,” said Jennifer Norris, a former Maine Air National Guard member, who left the military after being forced to reveal her own treatment for several assaults. “I should never have had to tell them to begin with.”
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