President Obama said sexual assault in the military "is not who we… (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated…)
WASHINGTON – President Obama said Tuesday that he has “no tolerance” for sexual assault in the U.S. military and pledged to crack down on the crime and any officials who turn a blind eye to it.
Obama said he talked with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday and ordered that officials “up and down the food chain” get the message.
“I expect consequences,” Obama said. “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable – prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged, period. It’s not acceptable.”
Obama’s call to Hagel came shortly after the release of a Pentagon study estimating that 26,000 members of the military were sexually assaulted in 2012, an increase over the 19,000 figure for the prior year.
Based on anonymous surveys of military members, the report also suggests a reluctance on the part of some victims to report the crime. Some 47% of victims fear retaliation, according to the Defense Department.
The study came out just two days after an Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs was charged with sexual battery. In recent months, Air Force generals have also drawn criticism for dismissing sexual assault convictions for lower-ranking officers.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that she would introduce legislation to remove decision-making on sexual assault cases from the chain of command. "We must do more and we must do it now,” she said.
Asked about the issue during a news conference in the East Room on Tuesday, Obama called the problem “an outrage.”
He said the Pentagon started to get an accurate system of reporting in place under the previous Defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, but he told Hagel it’s time to “exponentially step up our game.”
Obama urged service members who have been assaulted to come forward and speak up with the assurance that their commander in chief has “got their backs.” He won’t be satisfied with “speeches, awareness programs or training” in response, he said.
“Anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are,” Obama said. “This is not what the U.S. military is about.”
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