WASHINGTON (AFPS) — Allegations of misconduct against an Air Force officer in charge of the service’s sexual assault prevention and response effort underscored the importance of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s effort to prevent sexual assault across the military.
Hagel began his Pentagon news conference Tuesday by discussing the incident in which the officer was arrested by Arlington County police and charged with sexual battery. “He’s been removed from his position pending the outcome of this investigation,” the secretary said. “We’re all outraged and disgusted over these very troubling allegations.”
Hagel called sexual assault “a despicable crime” and said it is a serious challenge to the department. “It’s a threat to the safety and the welfare of our people and the health, reputation and trust of this institution,” he said.
He shifted to the annual report on sexual assault within the military the department delivered to Congress today. “This department 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 and to recruit and retain the good people we need,” he said. “That is unacceptable to me and the leaders of this institution. And it should be unacceptable to everyone associated with the United States military.”
Hagel called for a cultural change in the military with respect to sexual assault. He announced initiatives so “every service member is treated with dignity and respect, where all allegations of inappropriate behavior are treated with seriousness, where victims’ privacy is protected, where bystanders are motivated to intervene and where offenders know that they will be held accountable by strong and effective systems of justice.”
Hagel wants leaders to take this seriously and stressed the department will hold them responsible for putting in place programs to prevent sexual assault and to treat victims of the crime with compassion and justice.