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Military sexual assault: Another prevention coordinator investigated

Another U.S.

Another U.S. service member is being investigated for "abusive sexual contact" and other alleged misconduct just one week after an Air Force officer working in the sexual assault prevention office was arrested and charged with sexual battery.  The U.S. Army Sergeant First Class who had been assigned as a coordinator of a sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, has been suspended from all duties.

A defense official says that this Sergeant 1st Class is being investigated for forcing at least one subordinate soldier into prostitution, and for sexually assaulting two other soldiers. Stationed at the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters in Fort Hood, the sergeant also worked as an equal opportunity adviser. The allegations surfaced while the soldier worked with one of the Corps' subordinate battalions.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a full investigation. Special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command are conducting the investigation.

The soldier has not been charged and the Army has not released his identity.

A statement released by the Pentagon said that all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters will be re-trained to address the broader concerns in light of recent events. "I cannot convey strongly enough [Secretary Hagel's] frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply," the statement read.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who serves as the chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, has led the charge to change the Pentagon's sexual assault policy. The senator released a statement Tuesday evening.

"To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement. For the second time in a week we are seeing someone who is supposed to be the tip of the spear preventing sexual assault being investigated for committing that very act. We have to do better by the men and women serving. And assure them that they will be serving and not be attacked by their colleagues, and not be subject to this kind of treatment.We have the best and the brightest serving in our military. We have the greatest military in the world. And we ask everything of them. We ask them to even die for their country. We should not be asking them to be subject to sexual assault and rape.It is time to get serious and get to work reforming the military justice system that clearly isn’t working. I believe strongly that to create the kind of real reform that will make a difference we must remove the chain of command from the decision making process for these types of serious offenses."

Sen. Gillibrand is working to remove major criminal cases from the military's chain of command altogether in a bill she will introduce Thursday with Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas also released a statement on the alleged sexual assault.

"It has become painfully evident that saying the military has a cultural problem in regard to sexual assault and sexual misconduct, is a glaring understatement. At worst, this is a deep-rooted and widespread acceptance of unprofessional, inappropriate and criminal behavior. At best, it is willful denial or head-turning on the part of too many military leaders."

The ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations charged military leaders to action. "These damaging and unimaginable incidents demand immediate and significant action," Tsongas said.

Sen. Patty Murray, who introduced a bill last week offering to better protect military sexual assault victims from systemic challenges, also expressed her outrage.

"This is sickening. Twice now, in a matter of as many weeks, we've seen the very people charged with protecting victims of sexual assault being charged as perpetrators," the senator said. "It's an astonishing reminder that the Pentagon has both a major problem on its hands and a tremendous amount of work to do to assure victims--who already only report a small fraction of sexual assaults--that they are changing the culture around these heinous crimes."

The Pentagon released an alarming report last week that showed increased sexual assault in the military, raising new doubts about whether the country’s armed services can effectively prosecute sexual assault cases within their ranks. Secretary Hagel and other Pentagon leaders have said it would weaken military leaders' sense of responsibility and accountability if these cases are handled outside the chain of command.

According to the Pentagon, the number of reported assaults in fiscal year 2012 rose 6% to 3,374, which is up from 3,192 in 2011. For women in active duty, the prevalence of unwanted sexual contact increased about one-third from 4.4% to 6.1% (to 26,000 cases) over the course of two years.