WASHINGTON - President Obama said today he has "no tolerance" for sexual assault in the military and said perpetrators are "betraying the uniform that they're wearing," even as a new Pentagon report indicates the problem is growing.
"For those who are in uniform who've experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff. And there will be accountability," Obama said at a joint White House press conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
"I expect consequences," he said. "I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged - period. It's not acceptable."
The president's comments came on the same day that the Pentagon released a new report showing sexual assault in the military has vastly increased and the day after an Air Force officer in charge of preventing such crimes was charged with sexual assault.
Obama said sexual assault is a crime and vowed to "do everything we can to root this out."
"They may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior, that's not patriotic; it's a crime," he said. "Anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are. This is not what the U.S. military is about. And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day."
The president said his administration has been working to create a better structure for accurate reporting.
"I have directly spoken to [Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel] already today in indicating to him that we're going to have to, you know, not just step up our game; we have to exponentially step up our game to go at this thing hard," he said.
Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, who ran the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, was arrested and charged with sexual battery over the weekend in a D.C. suburb.
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said the case was under investigation by local authorities and that Krusinski was removed from his position as soon as authorities learned of the alleged attack Monday.
A day after Krusinski's arrest was announced, the Pentagon released its annual figures for sexual assault in the military. According to the report, there were 3,374 sexual assaults reported in fiscal year 2012, a 6 percent increase from the 3,192 reported in 2011.
The military defines sexual assault as ranging from incidents of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching to rape.
Pentagon officials believe sexual assaults go underreported and estimate that the actual number of incidents of unwanted sexual contact in 2012 may have been 26,000, a sharp increase from the estimated 19,000 in 2011.