Panetta: Military Has ‘No Tolerance’ for Sexual Assault
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 29, 2012 Sexual misconduct and sexual assault will not be tolerated in the military, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.
Responding to reporter’s questions during a Pentagon news briefing, Panetta said he was very concerned about sexual misconduct allegations involving training instructors and trainees at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
The Air Force has charged six instructors at Lackland with sexual misconduct and is investigating six more, officials said. Those instructors brought up on charges, officials said, are accused of committing a range of offenses involving female Air Force recruits who were attending either basic or technical training.
“These young recruits are very vulnerable at that point, and I think it is … absolutely essential that the leadership make sure that those who are responsible for these recruits don't take advantage of that situation,” the secretary said.
The Air Force is fully investigating all allegations involved, he said.
“I take sexual assault allegations very seriously. We have no place in the military for sexual assault,” Panetta said.
The Defense Department has reached out to bring women into the military, Panetta said, noting he’s very proud of their accomplishments.
“But we have to maintain strict discipline here to ensure that sexual assault does not happen,” he said. “For that reason, we put in place a number of steps to try to make sure that we deal with these allegations … at a higher level, so that it doesn't involve influence within a unit.”
In January, Panetta announced four initiatives designed to aid victims and strengthen prosecution of military sexual assault cases.
Those initiatives include:
-- Creation of a DOD sexual assault advocate certification program;
-- Expanded support for assault victims who are military spouses or adult military dependents;
-- Ensuring DOD civilians stationed abroad and DOD U.S. citizen contractors in combat areas receive emergency care and the help of a response coordinator and victim advocate; and
-- Increased training funds for investigators and judge advocates by $9.3 million over five years.
In December, the secretary announced new policies designed to aid sexual assault victims’ transfer to new assignments and ensuring prompt commander attention to reports of sexual assault.
“The command structure from the chairman on down have made very clear to the leadership in this department that this is intolerable and it has to be dealt with,” Panetta said today. “We have absolutely no tolerance for any form of sexual assault.”
Panetta said he is very proud of the men and women who volunteer for service in the military.
They “have my assurance, [and] they have the assurance of the military leadership, that we are going to do everything possible to make sure that they have the opportunity they deserve to serve without that kind of threat,” the secretary said.