WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday ordered the military to recertify all 25,000 people involved in programs designed to prevent and respond to sexual assault, an acknowledgement that assaults have escalated beyond the Pentagon’s control.
He said this step, which also applies to the military’s approximately 19,000 recruiters and must be completed by July 1, is one among many that will be taken to fix the problem of sexual abuse and sexual harassment within every branch of the military.
At a news conference with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hagel said he believes alcohol use is “a very big factor” in many sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, but there are many pieces to the problem.
He and Dempsey spoke one day after all of the military’s leadership were summoned to the White House to discuss the sexual assault problem with President Barack Obama, who has expressed impatience with the Pentagon’s failure to solve it.
At his Pentagon news conference, Hagel said it has become clear to him since taking office in February that holding people accountable for their actions is important, but simply firing people is not a solution. He said he gets a lot of advice on that.
He said some ask him, “Well, why don’t you just fire some people?” He said his answer is, “Well, yeah, we could do that. And, you know, who are you going to fire?”
A catalyst for congressional outrage has been the disclosure in recent days of at least two cases in which a military member with responsibility for sexual assault prevention programs has himself been accused of sexual misconduct. Cases of sexual assault allegations against military recruiters also have arisen recently.
Dempsey, who has been among the most outspoken Pentagon official on this topic, called sexual assault in the military “a crime that demands accountability and consequences.”
“As the president made clear to us yesterday, we can and must do more to change a culture that has become too complacent,” Dempsey said. “We have a serious problem that we must solve: aggressive sexual behavior that rips at the bond of trust that binds us together.”
Earlier Friday, the Air Force’s top general said that sexual assaults in his branch of the military typically involve alcohol use and can be traced to a lack of respect for women.