The growing problem of sexual assault in the armed forces could threaten the military's ability to do its job and to recruit strong candidates to serve their country, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today.
The issue took center stage in Washington after the arrest of the officer who ran the Air Force's sexual assault prevention office on a sexual battery charge was confirmed Monday, a day before the Pentagon released a report that found sexual assaults in the military have risen 6 percent.
The arrest this past weekend in Arlington, Va., of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who headed the Air Force's office of sexual assault prevention, sparked outrage about the military's response to sexual assault among service members. He was removed from his post on Monday after the Air Force found out about his arrest.
"We're all outraged and disgusted" by the news of Krusinski's arrest, Hagel told reporters today as the Pentagon released the report on sexual assaults.
"No one in this building is happy," Hagel said. "We're disappointed."
The report details a 6 percent increase in 2012 in the number of reports of sexual assault involving active duty service members as either victims or subjects.
Hagel said the frequency of sexual assaults in the military and the perception of its tolerance "could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need."
"We need cultural change, where every service member is treated with dignity and respect, where all allegations of inappropriate behavior are treated with seriousness, where victims' privacy is protected, where bystanders are motivated to intervene and where offenders know that they will be held accountable by strong and effective systems of justice," Hagel said.
According to the report, there were a total of 3,374 reports of sexual assaults involving service members as either victims or subjects, and of those 2,558 were investigated or prosecuted. These reports involved offenses ranging from rape to abusive sexual contact.
That figure was up from the 3,192 reports received in 2011. The overall increase in reporting was due to a 30 percent jump in reports from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force; the Army saw a 16 perecent decrease in reports.
The Pentagon believes that sexual assaults are underreported and calculates that that there could possibly have been as many as 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact in 2012. That number is extrapolated from a survey sent to 108,000 active duty service members, 24 percent of whom responded.
The survey found that 6.1 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men on active duty indicated they experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in the 12 months prior to the survey. The Pentagon uses the term "sexual assault" to refer to a range of crimes, including rape, sexual assault, nonconsensual sodomy, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, and attempts to commit these offenses.
At a White House news conference President Obama made clear that he has "no tolerance" for sexual assault in the military and said perpetrators are "betraying the uniform that they're wearing."
"They may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior, that's not patriotic; it's a crime. And we have to do everything we can to root this out," he said.