Surge in US army sex crimes amid outcry

Surge in US army sex crimes amid outcry

Surge in US army sex crimes amid outcry

AFP Photo

The Obama administration expressed outrage about a recent high-profile Air Force groping scandal on May 7, as the Pentagon released a study estimating that the number of sex crimes involving military personnel soared 37 percent last year.

The annual Pentagon report, which estimated there were 26,000 sex crimes ranging from rape to abusive sexual contact in 2012, came a day after the Air Force removed the officer in charge of its anti-sexual assault office for allegedly groping a civilian in a suburban parking lot near the Pentagon.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, was removed from his job as head of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office after he was charged with sexual battery for allegedly grabbing a civilian woman by the breasts and buttocks.

The incident provoked an outcry from senior Pentagon officials, lawmakers, and President Barack Obama, who told reporters he had “no tolerance for this.” Obama said he stood squarely behind the victims of sexual assault in the military and called on the Pentagon to up its game. “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 said.

‘Betraying the uniform’

“Sexual assault is an outrage. That’s true for society at large, and if it’s happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they’re wearing,” he added. Obama said he had spoken to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and told him, “we’re going to have to not just step up our game we have to exponentially step up our game to go at this thing hard.”

Hagel separately told reporters that a spate of sexual violence risked undermining trust in the military, and pledged to hold commanders responsible. Releasing the Pentagon’s annual report on sexual assault in the military, Hagel said the Defense Department was “outraged and disgusted over these very troubling allegations.” He warned that the problem of sexual assault had reached a point that it could jeopardize the military’s ability to attract and retain personnel. “Sexual assault is a despicable crime and one of the most serious challenges facing this department,” he said.

The Pentagon study found there were 3,374 reported cases of sexual assault in 2012, up nearly 200 from the 3,192 reported in 2011. Using survey data, the department estimated there were 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in 2012, compared to 19,000 in 2011. More men than women reported unwanted sexual contact, 13,900 versus 12,100, but a higher proportion of female personnel were affected, 6.1 percent, versus 1.2 percent, the study found.

The army has faced a series of embarrassing sexual assault scandals in the past year. An investigation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, that began in 2011, has so far turned up 59 cases of sexual assault of military recruits by drill instructors. The military has also been involved in controversial cases where the officer in charge of a court martial proceeding threw out the sexual assault convictions of service members. Those incidents have raised questions about whether the army can deal with sexual assault problem. Despite the difficulties, Hagel said he did not favor removing the prosecution of sex crimes from the authority of the military chain of command.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.