The sexual assault measures came after a contentious hearing earlier this year, when senators dressed down senior military leaders and insisted that sexual assault in the military had cost the services the trust and respect of the American people as well as the nation’s men and women in uniform.
Dempsey and the beribboned four-star chiefs of the service branches conceded in an extraordinary hearing in June that they had faltered in dealing with sexual assault. One said assaults were “like a cancer” in the military.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, especially Gillibrand and McCaskill, grilled the chiefs about whether the military’s mostly male leadership understands differences between relatively minor sexual offenses and serious crimes that deserve swift and decisive justice.
“Not every single commander necessarily wants women in the force. Not every single commander believes what a sexual assault is. Not every single commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape because they merge all of these crimes together,” Gillibrand said.
In his statement Friday, Obama called sexual assault in the military a “corrosive problem, which is a violation of the values our armed forces stand for, destroys trust among our troops, and undermines our readiness.”
“As commander in chief, I’ve made it clear that these crimes have no place in the greatest military on earth,” Obama said. “Since then, our armed forces have moved ahead with a broad range of initiatives, including reforms to the military justice system, improving and expanding prevention programs, and enhancing support for victims. Yet, so long as our women and men in uniform face the insider threat of sexual assault, we have an urgent obligation to do more to support victims and hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes, as appropriate under the military justice system.”
Presidential aides said the White House will be working with the Pentagon to develop a set of benchmarks so that the military’s review will be rigorous enough to bring about change. They said the review will include all the efforts underway to address the problem, including training and prevention programs and the way the justice system deters the problem and supports victims.