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Defense secretary worries sexual assault in military nearing a tipping point (+video)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says that sexual assault allegations in the military are so alarming that they could hurt the Pentagon's ability to recruit and retain 'the good people we need.' Critics are pushing for reform.

Sexual assault rising in the military
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Calls to change how the US military justice system prosecutes those accused of sexual assault grew increasingly robust as lawmakers vowed to create a minimum punishment for US troops convicted of the crime.

The calls come in the wake of revelations Monday that the US Air Force officer in charge of the service’s sexual assault prevention program had himself been arrested and charged with sexual assault.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he was “outraged and disgusted” by the allegations, and warned that the Pentagon “may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission to recruit and retain the good people we need.” 

On Wednesday, Reps. Niki Tsongas (D) of Massachusetts and Mike Turner (R) of Ohio, who serve as co-chairs of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, proposed a law to require that a US service member “found guilty of an offense of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit any of those offenses receive a punishment that includes, at a minimum, a dismissal or dishonorable discharge.”

The proposed legislation would also prevent US military commanders from overturning the guilty findings of military courts in cases of sexual assault. There have been two recent cases in which US officers convicted of sexual assault have had the verdicts overturned by their commanders.

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