The spike in reports of sexual assaults in the military has the Pentagon scrambling, as it should.

“We have a long way to go in solving this problem,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said recently. He is a master of understatement.

But the president and Congress passed up the real opportunity to solve it. They should have taken sexual assault reporting out of the military order of command.

The report on the past year’s incidents shows a 50 percent increase in claims overall, with wide variations among branches of the service. The Marines’ spiked at 86 percent, for example, with the Navy’s increasing 33 percent – still nothing to brag about. There were 5,061 reports in all, up from around 3,374 the year before.

The numbers show a much more pervasive problem than the brass had acknowledged. And they surely reflect a fraction of the total incidents, since sexual assaults are underreported even in civilian life.

A volunteer, sophisticated military has to attract men and women regardless of sexual orientation. Getting the best people is a national security interest. This image of the military as sexual harassment central has to be erased. If Hagel’s team can’t get it under control, Congress should step in.

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