Sexual assault in the military gets attention at the White House
May 9, 2013
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and senior administration officials met Thursday at the White House in a hastily planned meeting on military sexual assault to discuss possible fixes for the ongoing problem.
The event, run by presidential senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Council on Women and Girls executive director Tina Tchen, featured 16 Democrats and Republicans from both chambers of Congress and included frank discussion on how to “hold offenders accountable, improve the reporting process, and support victims,” according to a White House official.
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden did not attend.
Earlier this week, Pentagon officials released a new report which estimated more than 70 sexual assaults occur in the military each day. But only about 13 percent of those estimated 26,000 attacks were reported to authorities last fiscal year.
The report, compiled annually by the DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office, was released one day after the Air Force’s chief of sexual assault prevention was arrested on a charge of sexual battery, for groping a woman in a Virginia parking lot.
Last month, Air Force officials were criticized for a lieutenant general’s decision to throw out the sexual assault conviction against a fighter pilot convicted by court martial last year. And the nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms as vice commander of Space Command has been blocked over her previously unpublicized decision to overturn the aggravated sexual assault conviction a California-based airman.
The flurry of news drew harsh criticism from lawmakers, and new vows from the White House and Pentagon to fix the problem. Obama vowed to “do everything we can to root this out” and directed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to find better methods to prevent assaults and punish offenders.
“I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training,” Obama said during a Tuesday news conference. “If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged.”
According to a White House official, Jarrett and Tchen reiterated those sentiments during Thursday’s meeting, saying that sexual assault will not be tolerated in the military and the White House will hold defense leaders accountable for solving the problem.
The event also included discussion of various legislative proposals to address the problem, including a number introduced this week by lawmakers at the meeting.