Military to Retrain Sexual Assault Prevention Staff

Dave Weaver/AP Photo

WASHINGTON - After a second sex crime scandal in the military in the past week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered that all the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention coordinators and military recruiters be retrained, re-credentialed and rescreened.

The unprecedented move comes a week after the Air Force's sexual assault prevention officer was arrested for allegedly groping a woman. The lieutenant colonel in charge of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office was arrested for the alleged sexual battery of a woman in a parking lot near the Pentagon.

The Army on Tuesday announced that the coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, is under investigation "for pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates." He has been suspended from all duties while his case is investigated by the Army's Criminal Investigative Command.

The Pentagon last week released new statistics showing a 6 percent rise over the past year in the number of reported sexual assaults to 3,374. The report estimated that another 26,000 sexual assaults went unreported in the military last year, an increase from the estimated 19,000 the year before.

The incident at Fort Hood involves a sergeant first class who was serving as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program in a battalion belonging to the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters, which is based at the Army post located in eastern Texas.

In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Hagel was informed of the Fort Hood allegations yesterday.

"I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply," Little said.

Hagel met with Army Secretary John McHugh and directed that the case be fully investigated and "to discover the extent of these allegations, and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately. "

Furthermore, "to address the broader concerns that have arisen out of these allegations and other recent events, Secretary Hagel is directing all the services to re-train, re-credential, and re-screen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters. "

The combination of the Air Force arrest and the release of the new statistics last week led numerous members of Congress to speak out for an end to sexual assault in the military. Members of Congress today expressed outrage at the developments at Fort Hood.

"This is sickening," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who last week introduced a bipartisan bill with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., that provides military sexual assault victims with greater protections. "Twice now, in a matter of as many weeks, we've seen the very people charged with protecting victims of sexual assault being charged as perpetrators."

She called it "an astonishing reminder that the Pentagon has both a major problem on its hands and a tremendous amount of work to do to assure victims - who already only report a small fraction of sexual assaults - that they are changing the culture around these heinous crimes."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said he was "outraged and disgusted" and called it "the latest chapter in a long, sordid history of sexual abuse in our Armed Forces."

He said he saw no distinction "between the service member who orchestrated this offense and the chain of command that was either oblivious to or tolerant of criminal behavior. Both are accountable for this appalling breach of trust with their subordinates and their failure to act worthy of their responsibilities as leaders."

Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., called the Fort Hood report "utterly abhorrent" and said "we are witnessing utter betrayal at every possible level. It exemplifies the total break in trust that has been the disturbing hallmark of so many military sexual assault cases."

She added that "it has become painfully evident that saying the military has a cultural problem in regard to sexual assault and sexual misconduct, is a glaring understatement."

Last week Hagel expressed concern that 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.