Military Leaders, Senate Committee, Discuss Military Sexual Assault

By: Tara Mergener, CBS News Report
By: Tara Mergener, CBS News Report

America's top military leaders visited Capitol Hill to face questions about the epidemic of sexual assault in the armed forces. And while they agreed that the problem is a threat to the military, they disagreed on how to resolve it.

A panel of top military brass admitted that sexual assault in the armed forces is a crisis.

"These crimes violate everything our army stands for and they simply cannot be tolerated," Army Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff says.

But members of the Senate Armed Services Committee came on strong- suggesting that the military fails to recognize the severity of the crimes.

"This isn't about sex," says Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). "This is about assaultive domination and violence."

Lawmakers charged that the military's justice system has failed. And that victims are afraid to come forward.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand proposes stripping commanders of some of their authority to discipline troops.. And letting other high ranking officers with experience in sexual misconduct cases decided which ones go to trial. The chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said that would be a mistake.

The Armed Services Committee is considering seven different bills to address sexual assault in the military. Both parties see the problem as a potential threat to national security.

"If left uncorrected what impact will this problem have on the recruitment of qualified men and women," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) says.

The pentagon recently estimated that 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year. And its chiefs agree with Congress - the crisis has become a top priority.

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