Feature

The U.S. military's growing sexual assault problem

You know you're in trouble when the guy in charge of preventing sexual abuse in the Air Force is arrested for groping a woman

How bad is the U.S. military's sexual assault problem? On Tuesday, USA Today reported that sexual assaults in the military have increased by a third since 2010. And that comes after news broke that the officer in charge of the U.S. Air Force's sexual assault prevention program was arrested for — what else? — allegedly groping a woman while drunk in an Arlington, Va., parking lot.

The number of service members believed to be sexual assault victims rose to 26,000 in 2012, from 19,300 in 2010, according to a Defense Department survey provided to USA Today. It also showed that only about one in 10 service members who are assaulted come forward.

On Sunday, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski became the poster boy for the controversy when he was arrested and charged with sexual battery. As head of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, a police report like this doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in his commitment to the job:

On May 5 at 12:35 am, a drunken male subject approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police. [Arlington County Police Department]

Afterwards, the Pentagon released a statement saying that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had "expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively."

Among others, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, doesn't believe the military is doing enough to deal with the problem.

"This arrest speaks volumes about the status and effectiveness of the Department of Defense's efforts to address the plague of sexual assaults in the military," Levin said at a hearing with Air Force officials.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), another member of the committee, expressed her disappointment in a tweet:

And at a press conference on Tuesday, President Obama said he had "no tolerance" for sexual abuse in the military, claiming that those who committed such acts were "betraying the uniform" they wear.

This isn't a new problem for the Air Force. Just last month, an Air Force general came under fire for overturning a sexual assault conviction against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, which had been handed down by a military court-martial in November.

Such incidents have put pressure on legislators to remove authority over sexual assault cases from commanding officers, and give it to military lawyers, according to USA Today. The military insists that such a move would make it hard to maintain order.

Lawmakers, however, see it as a way of removing intimidation. Only 3,374 service members out of an estimated 26,000 decided to come forward with reports of sexual abuse in 2012, and only 3,000 pressed charges, according to USA Today.

"This is an institution of military good discipline, good order?" asked Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who introduced a bill to remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command. "It is time for us to roll up our sleeves and do something real about this." 

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