Chu Testifies on Alleged Overseas Sexual Assaults
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2004 The Defense Department's senior personnel official today assured Senate Armed Services Committee members that the military would get to the bottom of allegations that scores of female service members were sexually assaulted during overseas deployments.
"Sexual assault is a crime," David S.C. Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, declared in his opening remarks to members of the SASC's personnel subcommittee.
Chu said DoD policy prohibiting sexual assault "is clear in the law, it is clear in the regulations of the department, it is clear in the statements of the secretary of defense."
He also responded to committee references to published news reports about sexual misconduct and bad treatment of alleged victims. Chu pointed out steps the department is taking.
On Feb. 5 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld directed the stand-up of a special task force to investigate media reports of alleged sexual assaults on service members serving overseas and to examine how DoD treats and cares for victims.
Senior Pentagon official Ellen P. Embrey is now traveling "in the Central Command area of operations, including Iraq, to look at this issue and to begin the fact-finding and data collection," Chu noted.
Embrey, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for force health protection and readiness, was appointed to head the task force Feb. 13. She is slated to report her findings to Rumsfeld in 90 days.
Another principal focus of the task force's review is to examine "how we take care of the victim" of sexual assaults, Chu said, as well as how to prevent sexual assaults.
"We recognize we are not immune from the ills of the civil population," Chu acknowledged. Yet the military, he pointed out, demands a higher standard of conduct for its service members.
"And we aim to meet that standard," Chu asserted.
Indeed, incidences of sexual assault within the military have decreased by almost half since 1995, Chu cited from data taken in a military personnel survey conducted in 2002.
"Our challenge that we must meet is how to enforce a higher code of behavior," Chu declared. Although DoD has succeeded in greatly reducing incidents of sexual harassment and more serious types of sexual misconduct in recent years, Chu acknowledged that the military "is not perfect."
That's why, Chu noted, the defense secretary ordered up the sexual assault task force and DoD-wide review.
"We are committed to making the improvements that are necessary to get the next round of improvement," Chu declared, "and, above all, to care for the victim properly and to work to prevent such assaults from taking place."