WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- The Pentagon announced a plan Thursday to deal with
sexual assault in the ranks, including tighter control of recruiters and
trainers, shored-up protections for victims and improved tracking of
complaints and cases involving sexual abuse.
Among the initiatives:
Ensure the enforcement of policies prohibiting inappropriate
relationships between recruiters, instructors and green troops. USA
TODAY has reported that the Pentagon has disqualified 60 troops from
roles as recruiters, instructors or counselors after it screened them
for criminal backgrounds, including sexual assault.
• Establish a
victim-advocacy program in each service to provide legal advice and
representation for those bringing sexual assault complaints.
Give commanders authority to transfer those accused of committing sexual
assault to another unit. Currently, victims seek to serve in another
unit, but the accused does not have to leave.
• Mandate that a
military lawyer be the investigating officer for all Article 32 hearings
- the civilian equivalent of a preliminary hearing - involving sexual
assault. Currently, that investigating officer does not have to be a
• Seek regular reports from the inspector general on
investigations of sexual assault that have been closed to ensure they
were properly handled.
"All of these measures will provide victims
additional rights, protections and legal support, and help ensure that
sexual assault-related investigations and judicial proceedings are
conducted thoroughly and professionally," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel
said in a statement.
The moves come as Congress contemplates an
overhaul of the system the armed services have developed to combat
sexual assault. The issue came to the fore - and has largely stayed
there - in spring when the Pentagon announced that it estimated 26,000
cases of sexual assault had occurred in 2012. Those assaults ranged from
unwanted touching to rape and represented a 35% increase over the last
estimate in 2010.
"Sexual assault is a stain on the honor of our
men and women who honorably serve our country, as well as a threat to
the discipline and the cohesion of our force," Hagel said. "It must be
Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, director of the Joint
Staff, called sexual assault in the military a "serious and persistent
problem" that erodes trust.
Some members of Congress, such as Sen.
Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have found the military's response to its
self-described crisis as weak. They want commanders stripped of the
authority to decide what sexual assault cases are prosecuted and to
throw out convictions or amend sentences determined by military courts.
The plans announced Thursday do not go far enough, she said.
is time for Congress to seize the opportunity, listen to the victims
and create an independent, objective and non-biased military justice
system worthy of our brave men and women's service," Gillibrand said in a
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., has also called
for tougher measures. The Pentagon's efforts are welcome but do not go
far enough, she said last week after a draft of the changes was
circulated on Capitol Hill.
"Overall, there is nothing here that
will significantly curb sexual predators and their behavior, nothing
that will guarantee the safety of victims who report abuse, and nothing
that will fix the ongoing problems keeping cases inside the chain of
command," she said.