May 15 (Bloomberg) -- A U.S. Army sergeant who served as a sexual-assault prevention coordinator at Fort Hood, Texas, is under investigation on allegations including “abusive sexual contact” and “pandering,” according to the Pentagon.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel responded to the Fort Hood case by ordering the military services to retrain all sexual-assault prevention personnel and military recruiters, Pentagon spokesman George Little said in an e-mailed statement.
“I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply,” Little said of Hagel’s reaction.
The disclosure marked the second time in two weeks that a military official assigned to combat the problem of sexual assault in the ranks has been accused of sexual misconduct. Last week, the Pentagon released the results of a survey of active-duty troops that estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact last year, a 35 percent increase from two years earlier.
The revelation stirred fresh outrage in Congress and intensified a debate over how to curb the sexual abuse and harassment that have plagued the military for decades.
“I will not be satisfied with any response to this crime that fails to hold both the perpetrator and the chain of command responsible,” Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon of California, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
The Army sergeant, who wasn’t identified, is being investigated by special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command for “pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
Under the U.S.’s Uniform Code of Military Justice, pandering refers to compelling, inducing, enticing or procuring acts of prostitution.
The sergeant, who had been assigned as a prevention coordinator for a battalion of the Army’s III Corps, was suspended from all duties when the allegations surfaced, according to the Pentagon.
“These latest allegations of criminal behavior by yet another sexual assault prevention and response coordinator are appalling and show the need for fundamental reforms,” said Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a victims’ support group, in a statement. “The Pentagon is responsible for failing to effectively govern its personnel.”
The Army investigation emerged less than two weeks after the head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch was arrested in Arlington, Virginia, on a sexual assault charge.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski “approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks” on May 5, according to an Arlington County police report. Krusinski, 41, didn’t enter a plea at his May 9 arraignment, when his trial was set for July 18.
The Pentagon’s anonymous survey of active-duty troops produced an estimate that 26,000 reported experiencing unwanted sexual conduct last year, amounting to an average of 71 incidents per day. A survey two years earlier estimated 19,300 such incidents. In 2006, the only other time the survey was conducted, there were an estimated 34,200 incidents.
About 6.1 percent of active-duty women and 1.2 percent of active-duty men surveyed said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact within the previous 12 months.
‘Work to Do’
Those estimates dwarf the number of cases reported each year. Victims have said they’re afraid of coming forward, partly because they feared risking their careers. There were 3,374 reported cases of assault in 2012, a 5.7 percent increase from the previous year, the Defense Department said.
“This report tells us we’ve got more work to do,” said Major General Gary Patton, director of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.
Asked today whether the reported increase in sexual-assault cases in the military reflects American society at large, Little, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters, “It really doesn’t matter if our rates are similar to the rest of society. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard, and that’s what the American people demand.”
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, said his panel will act next month on a number of measures to address sexual assault in the military.
“Tragically, the depth of the sexual-assault problem in our military was already overwhelmingly clear before this latest highly disturbing report,” Levin said in a statement last night after the Army investigation was disclosed.
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said the latest allegation raised questions about the personnel assigned by the Pentagon to address the issue of sexual assault.
“If these allegations are proven, then now is the time for our military leaders to reevaluate who is being put into these positions,” McCaskill said in an e-mailed statement.
Little said today he couldn’t immediately say how many sexual assault-prevention and response personnel and military recruiters will be affected by Hagel’s order that all of them be retrained.
The Pentagon has worked with a “well-respected” outside group to certify about 3,000 sexual-assault prevention and response personnel since October 2012, Little said.
Chain of Command
The training and certification program for sexual-assault prevention personnel, mandated by Congress in the 2012 defense authorization act, is managed by the National Organization for Victim Assistance, according to the Pentagon’s website.
President Barack Obama pledged at a news conference last week to “exponentially step up our game” to combat sexual assaults in the military. Some lawmakers have questioned whether the administration and the military are ready to go far enough.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said she will push to prosecute sexual assault cases outside the military’s chain of command so that victims will be more comfortable in coming forward.
“They don’t feel that there is an atmosphere by which they can report safely,” Gillibrand told Air Force leaders at a hearing last week.
In the House, a bill sponsored by Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, would create an independent office within the Defense Department to handle assault cases.
Military leaders have rejected proposals in the past to take sexual-assault cases outside the chain of command. Hagel resisted the idea last week, even as he announced steps that he said would help curb assaults.
“The ultimate authority has to remain within the command structure,” Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference held to announce the annual report on sexual assaults.
Today, Little said going outside the command structure is among options that Hagel is weighing. The defense secretary wants to “work closely with Congress” as well as with the independent panel he has created to see “what ideas they have” before making a decision, Little said.
The Air Force is still reeling from a scandal in which at least five military instructors were convicted of sexual assaults or unprofessional relationships with trainees or students at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
An investigation of the Lackland case identified 23 alleged offenders and 48 alleged victims.
Hagel last month proposed barring military commanders from overturning court-martial convictions of sexual assault and other major crimes.
No charges have been filed in the case of the unnamed Army sergeant while the investigation proceeds, according to the Army statement. No additional information about the case is being released “to protect the integrity of the investigative process and the rights of all persons involved,” it said.
Army Secretary John McHugh voiced his concerns regarding sexual assaults in the military last week at a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.
“This is so contrary to everything upon which the Army was built,” McHugh said, according to an Army statement. “To see this kind of activity happening in our ranks is really heart-wrenching and sickening.”
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