Sexual assaults in the military are on the rise.
According to the Pentagon, the number of reported assaults in the fiscal year of 2012 rose 6% to 3,374 –up from 3,192 from the year before.
Officials, who are expected to release the report later in the day, said that for active duty women, the prevalence of unwanted sexual contact (not complaints) increased about one-third from about 4.4% to 6.1% to 26,000 over the course of two years. That number remained unchanged for active duty men and men and women in the reserves. Those results came from an anonymous survey.
At a press conference about the report, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel acknowledged that the frequency of assaults could result in the perception that there’s a tolerance for such behavior, which in turn could undermine the department’s mission to recruit and keep good people. “This is unacceptable to me and the leaders of this institution,” he said.
Hagel announced a number of initiatives to combat the problem, including the establishment of a special victims unit to deal with cases, more awareness and sexual abuse prevention training programs inspections at military academies, and holding commanders accountable for creating a safe environment.
Adding a blow to the armed services, the report comes just after a day after it was revealed that the Air Force’s sexual-abuse prevention chief, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, was charged with sexual battery in Virginia. He has since been removed from his position.
“We need cultural change where every service member is treated with dignity and respect,” said Hagel, adding his department is “outraged and disgusted” over the allegations against Krusinski.
President Obama weighed in on the report during a joint press conference with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, declaring anyone who engages in sexual assault in the military will face consequences and is “betraying the uniform.”
“I have no tolerance for this,” said Obama. “I have communicated this to the secretary of defense. We’re going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain…I expect consequences.” He added, “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.”
The report also comes as senators in both parties want to put forth legislation to change how the military handles reports of sexual assault.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York plans on introducing a bill that would replace the current system of adjudicating a report by taking it outside a victim’s chain of command.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte have put forth a bill that would provide victims of sexual assault a military lawyer and improve current DOD prevention programs.
Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of the DOD’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office said at the press conference following Hagel’s remarks that “we’ve got some work to do.”