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WASHINGTON — While praising some of the new steps to combat sexual violence that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced Wednesday, critics say the Pentagon isn’t going nearly far enough.

Measures outlined by Panetta included training military advocates for sexual assault victims to the highest national standards. Meanwhile, $9.3 million would be spent on training to give rape investigations and prosecutions more teeth, he said, providing servicemembers the protection they deserve.

“We have a moral duty to keep them safe from those who would attack their dignity and their honor,” Panetta said.

But that doesn’t cut to the heart of the problem, said Anu Bhagwati, executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network.

“Commander influence is the crux of this problem,” Bhagwati said in a news release. “Spending an extra $10 million training military lawyers to try these cases does no good if commanders are not preferring sexual assault cases to trial.”

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., praised Panetta’s emphasis of the problem but called his actions “not bold enough.”

The decision to prosecute should be taken out of the chain of command, Speier said, as required by legislation she introduced in Congress last fall.

“The core of the flawed system remains in place — unit commanders will continue to have complete and total discretion over incidents of assault in their unit,” Speier said in a written statement. “A commander can choose to investigate a case or sweep it under the rug.”

Bhagwati said regulations introduced last year that allow servicemembers reporting a sex assault to quickly transfer to another unit are not always followed by commanders.

She called it “a waste of time” to carry out another of Panetta’s newly-announced measures, studying how commanders are trained to deal with sexual assault cases.

“In the past 16 years there have been 18 studies by the DOD on sexual assaults,” she said. “It is time for the Secretary to change the military justice system which continues to deny justice to sexual assault survivors.”

Twitter: ChrisCarroll_

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