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General accused of sexual assault to see rank reduced

A general who became the face of the military's failure to address sexual assault will see his rank reduced two grades.
Jeffrey Sinclair
Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair leaves a Fort Bragg, N.C., courthouse on Jan. 22, 2013.

An Army general who faced a court martial this year after being accused of sexually assaulting a junior officer has been bumped down two grades in rank, the first to receive such a punishment in a decade.

Jeffrey Sinclair will see his rank reduced from brigadier general to lieutenant colonel. Sinclair admitted to having improper relationships with three women who served under him and pleaded guilty to a number of lesser charges in March. He avoided conviction on more serious charges of sexual assault and was fined $20,000. He received no jail time, but Army officials said when Sinclair pleaded guilty that he could see his rank reduced.

"While retirement benefits are mandated by federal law, there is a requirement that an individual must have served satisfactorily in rank before receiving those benefits," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said in a statement released Friday by the Army. "Sinclair displayed a pattern of inappropriate and at times illegal behavior both while serving as a Brigadier General and a Colonel.  I therefore decided there was sufficient evidence and cause to deny him those benefits."

Sinclair is believed to the be first general to face a court martial for sexual assault. His case -- and the fact that he avoided jail time even though he pleaded guilty to charges that could have carried a prison sentence -- was a flash point for advocates for change to military policy on sexual assault cases. Legislators who have been working to reform the system, such as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and House members like Rep. Jackie Speier of California, criticized Sinclair's sentence as a slap on the wrist when it was announced.

On June 13, President Obama signed an executive order that allows evidence of a victim's prior sexual behavior to be used at preliminary hearings. The House of Representatives approved an amendment introduced by Speier that would stop that change from being implemented.