WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday announced new steps to combat sexual assaults in the military, with serious offenses such as rape and forcible sodomy subject to a court-martial review at the authority level of Army colonel or Navy captain.
“Sexual assault has no place in the military. It is a violation of everything that the U.S. military stands for,” Panetta told a Capitol Hill news conference after a closed-door meeting with members of the House Armed Services Committee who have pushed for the Pentagon to take aggressive steps to stop sexual assaults.
The Pentagon said Friday that the number of reported sexual assaults had increased slightly last year, with 3,192 cases involving service members as either victims or perpetrators. But the Defense Department also has estimated that 86 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, a reflection of the fear some have for the prosecutorial system or their own standing in the service.
Panetta said that as Pentagon chief he would issue a directive changing the way cases are handled. A higher authority within the military now will review the most serious cases, ensuring that cases remain within the chain of the command and leaders are held responsible.
He said he would work with Congress on legislation implementing several other initiatives, including creation of special victims units within the services, allowing National Guard and reserve members to remain on active duty after they file a complaint and an explanation of sexual assault policies to all service members within 14 days of their entry in the military.