Friday, March 7, 2014
Robert Burns / The Associated Press
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"Tragically, the depth of the sexual assault problem in our military was already overwhelmingly clear before this latest highly disturbing report," Levin said.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she intends to present new comprehensive legislation on Thursday to overhaul the military justice system by removing chain-of-command influence from prosecution of sex abuse crimes.
"To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement," Gillibrand said.
"The sad thing is that this is not a unique case,"Anu Bhagwati, former Marine captain and executive director of the Service Women's Action Network, said in an interview. "Week after week, we're hearing of cases across the branches of military leaders taking advantage of their positions of authority. "
The Pentagon is struggling with what it calls a growing epidemic of sexual assaults across the military. In a report last week, the Defense Department estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, based on survey results.
Of those, fewer than 3,400 reported the incident, and nearly 800 of them simply sought help but declined to file formal complaints against their alleged attackers.
There also is an ongoing investigation into more than 30 Air Force instructors for assaults on trainees at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and the recent arrest of the Air Force's head of sexual assault prevention on charges of groping a woman.
An Arlington County, Va., police report said Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was drunk and grabbed a woman's breast and buttocks in a parking lot earlier this month. The woman fought him off and called police, the report said. A judge has set a July 18 trial date for Krusinski.
Congressional anger over these incidents and two recent decisions by officers to overturn juries' guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases has precipitated a storm of criticism on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is holding up the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, tapped to serve as vice commander of the U.S. Space Command, until McCaskill gets more information about Helms' decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case.