Faced with the oversight of a new independent panel, the military has announced a plan to combat sexual assault in the ranks. Such attacks were up 37 percent in 2012, according to the Pentagon’s own information.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, “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.”

But the military has been dragging its heels for years and the problem has gotten worse and worse. Last year, 26,000 people reported inappropriate behavior, including rape, but it is widely accepted that the number of victims is much higher.

Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, quoted by Reuters, acknowledged the predicament:

“We have to attack that because, frankly, we want increased, unrestricted reporting,” said [Scaparrotti], director of the Joint Staff. “And we can only get that if we (have) the trust of our victims.”

One reason trust is an issue is because victims are often forced to interact with their attackers, sometimes in life and death situations. One welcome change announced Thursday is that officers will be able to transfer the accused away from their alleged victims while cases are investigated. Of course that does no good if the attacker is also a commander, so another change will require that a high-ranking general officer be informed of allegations.

Stars and Stripes reports that the new policies, which come as Congress has mandated more oversight of the issue, “appear unlikely to appease lawmakers who have been calling for a dramatic overhaul of military sexual assault cases, starting with taking the legal responsibilities out of the chain of command.”

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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