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Being Sexual Assaulted Will No Longer Prevent Officials from Getting Clearance

Update Date: Apr 05, 2013 01:12 PM EDT

For years the executive department has required employees to answer Question 21, which asks them whether or not they have received mental health counseling as a result of being sexually assaulted. This question often prevented numerous officials in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the military from receiving higher levels of security clearance suggesting that sexually assaulted victims are incapable of protecting government information due to their mental statutes. This type of logic was not backed by any evidence that all sexually assaulted people could not be trusted and as of today, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper stated that answering Question 21 will no longer be required.   

"We are trying to get away from the fact of mental health counseling, and getting to an individual's ability to function in the world place. That's what we really care about: Can you protect national security information?" the deputy assistant director for the Special Security at the Office of National Intelligence, Charles Sowell said.

The shift away from mental stigmas is a positive sign that the community can move towards understanding mental conditions better. People who suffer from mental illnesses or needed mental health counseling for several reasons have often been misunderstood and prematurely judged. The fact that the government has acknowledged that counseling does not define an individual is an important step towards a healthier viewpoint on mental conditions. This decision is consistent with previous government actions to attempt to be up to date with current mental situations and stigmas. Since the 1950s, the government has changed how it determines who guards national security information 10 times.

Sowell and other government officials stated that Question 21 used to encompass more conditions that would have prevented a lot of people from receiving clearance simply due to a mental label. Although Question 21 did not determine whether or not people were immediately barred from security clearance, it required individuals who answered "yes" to enter another round of investigations. The fact that a mental condition label could lead to judgment based on stereotypes can hinder the government's decisions on picking people who might actually be more qualified than others.

"The longer this went on, the more clear it was we needed to do something to create relief for victims of sexual assault," Sowell stated.

 The revision of Question 21 is a step towards breaking down stereotypes and stigmas surrounding mental illnesses and sexual assault.  

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