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Guidelines protect sex assault victims seeking security clearance

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper released guidelines Friday that protect victims of sexual assault who fear that coming forward for help or counseling may jeopardize their security clearance.

Clapper's new guidance now mandates that someone seeking mental health counseling cannot be the sole reason that individual is denied security clearance.

So-called "Question 21" on the standard security clearance questionnaire has been criticized in recent months as discouraging victims of sexual assault from seeking help, spurring a long review of its use by the intelligence community.

Victims may now answer “No” to the question, which asks if the respondent has consulted a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition or if he or she was similarly hospitalized.

This language will be added to the question:

"Please respond to this question with the following additional instruction: Victims of sexual assault who have consulted with a health care professional regarding an emotional or mental health condition during this period strictly in relation to the sexual assault are instructed to answer No."

“The U.S. Government recognizes the critical importance of mental health and supports proactive management of mental health conditions, wellness and recovery,” Clapper said in a release.

“The guidance which was issued on an interim basis pending formal revision of the policy, applies to all executive branch departments and agencies,” the release said.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence issues guidance for all 17 of the agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence community.