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ARLINGTON, Va. — Concern over recent media reports of sexual misconduct among troops in combat zones has prompted the Pentagon to launch an investigation into the way sexual assault victims are treated.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed a memo Thursday directing David Chu, the undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness, to review the department’s policy and position on sexual assault and how victims are cared for.

“I am concerned about recent reports regarding allegations of sexual assaults on servicemembers deployed to Iraq and Kuwait,” Rumsfeld wrote. “Sexual assault will not be tolerated in the Department of Defense.”

Over the past year, U.S. Central Command tallied the following reports of alleged sexual misconduct, the majority of allegations filed by women:

• Air Force: Seven• Army: 80• Marine Corps: One• Navy: None

Preliminary numbers based on pay records show 59,742 women served in Afghanistan and Iraq between October 2002 and November 2003.

The genesis of Rumsfeld’s concern is an in-depth Jan. 25 Denver Post article that reported 37 female servicemembers sought counseling and other help from civilian rape crisis organizations after returning from war duty from the theater, a defense official said.

“The women, ranging from enlisted soldiers to officers, have reported poor medical treatment, lack of counseling and incomplete criminal investigations by military officials. Some say they were threatened with punishment after reporting assaults,” according to the Post article.

So far, the review ordered by Rumsfeld focuses solely on the department’s policies and procedures, and not on any specific allegations or cases coming out of the theater, said the defense official, who asked not to be named.

“We don’t know if there is any corroboration in the cases reported in the Post,” the official said.

Rumsfeld is expecting the findings, and any possible recommendations for change from Chu’s review, in 90 days.

“I am directing that you review how the department handles treatment of and care for victims of sexual assault, with particular attention to any special issues that may arise from the circumstances of a combat theater,” Rumsfeld wrote. “We are responsible for ensuring that the victims of sexual assault are properly treated, their medical and psychological needs are properly met, our policies and programs are effective, and we are prompt in dealing with all issues involved.”

About 92 percent of military jobs are open to women, with exclusions in infantry, armor, artillery, special operations and submarines.

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