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U.S. Changes Security Clearance Question to Help Sex Assault Victims
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On Friday, in what an activist termed as a “huge victory for survivors of military sexual assault,” the U.S. government announced that people in U.S. national security jobs can now opt out of Question 21 on the security clearance form by answering “no.” This means people seeking jobs would no longer have to reveal whether they had mental health counseling for sexual assault or not.

Anu Bhagwati, head of the Service Women’s Action Network, a former Marine Corps captain, said in a statement, “From numerous calls we receive on our helpline, we know that Question 21 has kept survivors from seeking the critical mental health services they have needed to heal in the aftermath of sexual assault.”

The official security clearance form is part of the mandatory background check for military and civilian government employees and also required for private sector workers working for government contractors. Usually, the official security clearance is a must for employment in positions with to security concerns.


However, advocates and activists claim that the requirement for acknowledging emotional counseling led a huge number of victims of sexual assault to forego required counseling, because Question 21 did not make any differentiation between routine mental health treatments of serious mental health problems.

Charles Sowell, deputy assistant director for special security in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said “We want to encourage individuals to get the help they need … We really are trying to get away from asking about the fact of mental health counseling and getting to a question that focuses on an individual’s ability to function appropriately at the workplace.”

Officials are going to change the question on mental health so that institutional stigma against counseling is removed. In the meanwhile, the interim guidance allows applicants to opt out by just ticking “no.”

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