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Hagel: Military has in many ways failed on sexual assault

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel briefs reporters on the initiative to prevent sexual assault and the 2012 annual report on sexual assault during a press conference at the Pentagon, May 7, 2013.

GLENN FAWCETT/DOD

By JENNIFER HLAD | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 17, 2013

WASHINGTON – Military leaders are disappointed, embarrassed and have, “in many ways, failed” on stopping sexual assault in the military, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday afternoon.

“It’s not good enough to say we have a zero tolerance policy,” Hagel said. “How does that translate into changing anything? … I want to know how it’s being done, and I want to know everything about it.”

Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and the other top military leaders met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday to discuss the sexual assault crisis. Hagel also had a telephone meeting Friday morning with a new panel charged with reviewing how the military handles sexual assault cases.

“We’re going to fix the problem,” Hagel said. “The problem will be solved here, in this institution.”

Hagel also sent a memo Friday to the chiefs and secretaries of each of the military departments, directing them to create sexual assault prevention and response “stand-down” plans. The stand-downs must include refresher training and a review of the credentials and qualifications for current recruiters, sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates, as well as direct command engagement on the “climate of dignity and respect necessary in every work place across the DOD.” The programs must be complete by July 1, the memo reads.

Hagel first announced the retraining and rescreening requirements Tuesday, after the revelation that a sergeant first class in charge of a sexual assault prevention program at Ft. Hood, Texas, was accused of abusive sexual contact, maltreatment of subordinates, assault and pandering.

Friday morning, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told reporters that respect for others and prevention of sexual assault “needs to be part of who we are.”

The Air Force must instill, from the first day, the “idea of respect, inclusion, diversity and value of every individual,” Welsh said.

Sexual assault “is not a mistake. It’s not bad behavior. It’s a crime,” he said. “This should not happen to people.”

At the Pentagon press conference Friday afternoon, Dempsey said he believes the stress of a decade of war may have had some impact on the rising number of sexual assaults in the military, though he isn’t sure precisely what the impact has been.

“You might argue that we’ve become a little too forgiving, because if, you know, if a perpetrator shows up at a court martial with a rack of ribbons and has four deployments and a Purple Heart, there is certainly the risk that we might be a little too forgiving of that particular crime,” he said.

Hlad.jennifer@stripes.com

Twitter: @jhlad

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