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Media Availability with Secretary Hagel at the DoD Safe Helpline, Washington, DC

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
April 21, 2014

STAFF: Do you have anything you want to say at the top?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: No, I think I -- you all heard what I said out there, and thanked everyone for their efforts and took a couple of questions, kind of let them get a sense maybe of where our focus is and what we're doing in (inaudible). So --


TOM VANDENBROOK, USA TODAY: Your time is obviously valuable. You're sending a signal by coming here, right? I'd like to have you talk a little bit about the signal you're trying to send.


 Q: But then also, and quickly, when are you going to -- what signs are you looking for that you've turned this problem around? What -- what are you going to look for in terms of statistics that can show that you've got your handles -- hands on it?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, first to your question regarding the secretary of defense coming here and spending an hour getting briefed on what they do here and why it's important. Yes, as I said in the other room, any big problem in any institution, in society, that is resolved, is fixed, has to begin at the top of -- of a leadership structure, whether it's the president of the United States or the CEO of a corporation; whether it's the president of a college.

And so it is important that our people in our military institution know that the secretary of defense is very focused on stopping sexual assault in the military. And I think in the past, more than a year that I've been secretary of defense, I've done as much in that area to try to project that as I can do. We have -- which is going to get to your second question -- in setting up systems, structures, focus, but it has to begin at the top.

Every leader in our military is focused on this -- the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, our chiefs, our secretaries, but it has to come down all the way to leadership at every level, wide and deep in an institution. And I, I think you know, have weekly meetings. I have been for months and months and months. I have a weekly meeting, one hour every week and we go around the table with the heads of our sexual assault prevention institution. And represented around that table are the chiefs, either they're there or their vice chiefs are there. The secretaries of the services are there, and general counsel's office is there -- normally, he's there, others; public affairs; legislative affairs.

And they give me a report. And I have an opportunity to respond and ask questions. Why aren't we doing this? And so that's a pretty clear sign that I take this about as serious as any internal issue we have.

Now, as to your question on how will we know when we've got our arms around it. This is an insidious crime. And it's perpetrated on our own people by our own people. And as I said in the other room, this is a societal issue. This isn't just a military issue. This is a problem on college campuses. It's a problem in the country.

And if we, not only because we must stop this within our institution, and if therefore we can help our society put a focus on stopping this, and protecting our people; on reaching out to victims, victims' advocacy, victims' assistance; developing trust and confidence.

The same things that we're doing here in our military, in our institutions, which we have the responsibility for, we can -- and we are working outside those boundaries as well -- the president's task force on sexual assault on college campuses. I'm part of that. The military is part of that.

And so I don't know if I'll be able to point ever to a point until there is -- when we talk about zero tolerance -- when -- until there is never again a sexual assault. We're going to have to keep at this. These -- these things just don't kind of spike, they come and they go. It's a crime. Sexual assault is a crime. And in order to deal with any big problem, you've got to stay focused on it. It has to be a primary emphasis. You've got to put the systems in place. You've got to inculcate your people so that they have personal responsibility for their own behavior, their own conduct.

So, we're not looking at it on a basis of when will we know when our arms are around it. We know we've got a big challenge out there. We're putting in place the reporting mechanisms. We're doing everything we can do, to first of all institute confidence and trust in the system; victims' advocacy; victims' assistance; and to stop the crime and to stop the crime and punish those who are the offenders.

So it's all those things together. And it's a constant effort.

STAFF: I know we're short here on time, but Lauren and then -- (inaudible).

Q: Okay. So my question basically, we've talked a lot about victim services and correction -- (inaudible) -- a huge part of stopping this problem. But as far as the criminal justice side, what do you see -- (inaudible) -- I guess the biggest steps that need to be taken to ensure that -- (inaudible) -- punished for what they've done -- (inaudible) -- happening again?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think like any judicial system, it has to be fair. And it has to be transparent. People have rights. And so, I don't think it's reinventing any of the system. It's confidence in the system. It's trust in the system for our victims. And it's accountability, responsibility for the leaders who have the responsibility to carry out justice and to assure that there is punishment for those who committed a crime.

So, our country, fortunately, is a nation of laws. We start with the Constitution. It's imperfect. We have many laws. If we just follow the logic of laws, we shouldn't have any crimes, because we have laws. Well, we know that that doesn't work. We are imperfect creatures.

And so I think all the things that I've said before, you add all that up and you keep working it and working it and stay focused on it. It is human behavior. It is human conduct. And there's where -- where it resides. And then, yes, you have to build systems and structures to assure rights and punishment, all the rest. But if we can get individuals where we need to get them to start with as their own personal behavior and personal conduct -- their responsibility to conduct themselves not just legally but morally right.

So -- so we work on all those fronts.

Q: (inaudible) -- General Dempsey last week said that if things don't really change in the way cases are prosecuted, that he would be willing to go back and revisit the -- (inaudible). Where do you stand on that now after all these months of debate over various bills?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I said that a year ago. In fact, recall that I'm the one who suggested that we review the Uniform Code of Military Justice, section 60 in particular, which has the jurisdiction of who our commanders -- who brings court martials and so on. And I submitted a paper to Congress back last spring suggesting that they take a look at all of this.

So, I'm absolutely open to reviewing everything. I've just initiated in the last few months a complete review of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It hasn't been done in 30 years. So, absolutely, Dempsey is right on this and I -- I've been saying this for more than a year and it's been exactly my position.

STAFF: Thank you very much. Thanks.

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you, guys. Thank you.

Thanks for coming over.

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