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Pentagon Issues Directive Aimed At Preventing Sexual Assault

Chuck Hagel

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel testifies during a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee in June.

The Pentagon, hoping to stanch a sharp increase in reported sexual assaults within the ranks, has issued a plan designed to strengthen oversight and increase protections for victims.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a one-page memo ordering enforcement of policies against inappropriate relationships between recruiters, instructors and trainee soldiers; establishing a victim-advocacy program in each service branch; giving commanders authority to transfer those accused of sexual abuse and mandating a lawyer be appointed for all preliminary hearings involving allegations of sexual assault.

"Sexual assault is a stain on the honor of our men and women who honorably serve our country, as well as a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force. It must be stamped out," Hagel said in a statement.

The plan to deal with sexual assault comes after a series of embarrassments for the Pentagon earlier this year, including accusations of abuse against a member of the Fort Hood sexual assault response team and the arrest of the Fort Campbell sexual-harassment program on domestic dispute charges.

The incidents prompted strong words from President Obama, who told Naval Academy graduates in Annapolis, Maryland, in May that those who commit sexual assaults "have no place in the greatest military on earth."

In the same month, the Pentagon reported a 37 percent increase in cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military from 2011 to 2012, with 26,000 people reporting everything from groping to rape, up from 19,000 a year earlier, according to The Associated Press.

Since the report, 60 people have been removed from jobs as military recruiters, drill instructors and victims counselors since the report, the AP says.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday that: "The initiatives announced today are substantial, but only a step along a path toward eliminating this crime from our military ranks."

"The President expects this level of effort to be sustained not only in the coming weeks and months, but as far into the future as necessary," Carney said. "None of our men and women in uniform should ever have to experience the pain and degradation of sexual assault."