Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks April 29 during a joint news conference at the Pentagon. A soldier assigned to coordinate a sexual assault prevention program in Texas is under investigation for 'abusive sexual contact' and other alleged misconduct and has been suspended from his duties, the Army announced Tuesday. Pentagon press secretary George Little said after Tuesday's announcement that Hagel is angry and disappointed at 'these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply.' (Evan Vucci/AP)
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Revelations that a Fort Hood soldier assigned to prevent assault was accused of being a pimp has intensified calls from both the Pentagon and Capitol Hill to crack down on sexual crimes in the military.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered “all the services to retrain, re-credential, and re-screen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill lawmakers stepped up efforts to pass a law that would strip military commanders of authority over sexual assault cases and move potential prosecution of offenders into a separate legal process outside of the chain of command.
“For the second time in a week we are seeing someone who is supposed to be preventing sexual assault being investigated for committing that very act,” Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a statement. Gillibrand became the Senate armed services personnel subcommittee chairman earlier this year.
“It is time to get serious and get to work reforming the military justice system that clearly isn’t working,” she said. “I believe strongly that to create the kind of real reform that will make a difference we must remove the chain of command from the decision-making process for these types of serious offenses.”
The latest furor erupted after military officials said an Amy sergeant first class was accused of pandering — a legal term for peddling sexual services on behalf of another person — along with abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.
The soldier, whose name was not released, was a battalion-level program coordinator for the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) as well as an equal opportunity adviser, officials said.
The Fort Hood investigation is the latest in a spate of sexual assault scandals. On May 5, the chief of the Air Force’s sexual assault and prevention program office at the Pentagon, a lieutenant colonel, was arrested and charged with the sexual battery of a woman in a parking lot in northern Virginia.
The Pentagon recently released a report suggesting that about 26,000 troops were sexually assaulted last year, or about 70 each day. Yet only a fraction of those — less than 3,400 — were formally reported to military authorities, the report said.
Hagel’s order for retraining, re-credentialing and re-screening is likely to affect at minimum the roughly 9,000 troops across the force who are formally assigned to jobs involving sexual assault and prevention programs. The Pentagon has not offered any details for how that will be implemented.
About 3,000 of those have undergone official credentialing through the civilian-run National Organization for Victims Assistance.
Military recruiters will face the same treatment, in part because of a string of recent sexual misconduct cases involving recruiters.
Sexual assault is gaining the attention of the nation’s highest officials. Hagel plans to hold weekly meetings at the Pentagon to receive updates about the stepped-up prevention efforts.
Hagel discussed the matter with President Obama during a routine meeting at the White House on Tuesday, Little said.
“Both the president and the secretary expect action,” Little said. “They expect prevention measures at all times and when prevention is not achieved, they expect accountability.”
On Capitol Hill, Gillibrand’s proposal to remove sexual assault cases from traditional military justice channels is gaining support from both Republicans and Democrats. The idea is opposed by many military leaders, but Hagel has signaled that he is has not ruled it out and is open to considering all options.
Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Fort Hood investigation is “the latest chapter in a long, sordid history of sexual abuse in our Armed Forces.”
“I have a granddaughter in the U.S. Army,” said McKeon. “I understand the feelings of worry and doubt when a loved one accepts the responsibility of military service. We can prepare them to face the enemy abroad. But we cannot, nor will not, tolerate an enemy within. I will not be satisfied with any response to this crime that fails to hold both the perpetrator and the chain of command responsible their own standards of conduct.”
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, issued a similar statement, and vowed that Congress will act.
“The depth of the sexual assault problem in our military was already overwhelmingly clear before this latest highly disturbing report,” Levin said.
His committee “is considering a number of measures, including changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to address sexual assault and related issues in the military, and will act on them during our consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act next month.”