Senator to Pentagon: Sexual assault rate in military 'cannot continue'
WASHINGTON — A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee told a high-ranking Pentagon official Wednesday that the number of sexual assaults in the military “cannot continue.”
“We chose this important and troubling subject for the first meeting of the personnel subcommittee this year in order to underscore our deep concern about the problem of violence against women in the Armed Forces,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said. “The information we have received, in interviews with victims, as reflected in news accounts, reports from the services … describe shocking percentages of sexual assaults suffered by women in uniform. This cannot continue.”
The U.S. military has fallen short in providing victims of sexual assault — particularly those in combat zones — the medical and counseling care they need, David Chu, the under secretary for Personnel and Readiness, said Wednesday.
“Right now, our principal focus of review is how we care for the victims. … We need to improve care to the victims,” Chu told members of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “We believe this is where we have the greatest distance to go.”
The subcommittee lawmakers called for the hearing following a string of reports of sexual assaults and harassment cases coming out of Iraq and Kuwait — cases in which alleged perpetrators were U.S. military personnel.
Following the media reports, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld directed Chu to launch an investigation into how sexual assault victims are treated and review the department’s and service’s policies on sexual assault and victim treatment. His memo led to the creating of a 10-member task force that will submit a report to Chu by April 30.
Military leaders from each of the services testifying Wednesday told Congress of a combined 112 alleged cases of sexual assault occurring in the Central Command region over the past 14 months:
¶ Eighty-six cases in the Army, of which court-martial proceedings have begun in 14 of them. Investigations have been completed in half of the 86, said Gen. George Casey Jr., vice chief of staff.
¶ Twelve cases in the Navy, most of which happened in Bahrain, said Vice Adm. Michael Mullen, vice chief of Naval Operations. Six cases were dropped for lack of evidence or because victims did not want to come forward, one resulted in a court-martial still under way, and five are under investigation.
¶ Eight cases in Air Force, dating back to Sept. 11, 2001. Two cases involved assaults by non-Americans and host nations have retained jurisdiction, Moseley said. Of the remaining six, commanders tried one by court-martial, two were handled through administrative action, one was dismissed after the commander conducted an Article 32 investigation, one investigation was just completed and is awaiting command action, and in the remaining case was dropped after determined to be unfounded, he said.
¶ Six cases in the Marine Corps, of which two resulted in courts-martial and four are under investigation.
While the short-term focus is on victim assistance, long-term goals will better develop prevention programs to keep members from being victimized to begin with.
For example, as of December, the Marine Corps provides and training programs to all officers, and beginning March 1, will give similar training to all enlisted Marines at recruit schools, said Assistant Commandant Gen. William Nyland.
The Navy has recorded success with its Sexual Assault Victim Intervention, or SAVI, program that heavily focuses on prevention education and getting advocates out to the victims, Mullen said. It’s a program that piqued the interest of Army leaders, who might adopt it, Casey said.
While the Army has victim advocates stationed in Iraq, six of them to be exact, all are at the division levels and not easily accessible to victims in remote areas, Casey said.
At the hearing, Chu unveiled results of the “Armed Forces 2002 Sexual Harassment Survey,” which reflects a decrease in reports of sexual assaults by women from 6 percent in 1995 to 3 percent in 2002, the last dates for which survey were done.
Despite this, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., criticized him for taking two years to issue the report. “Why would it take two years to [release] the survey,” Warner boomed, waving a copy. “It should have been addressed long before two years.”