United States Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered a mandatory inspection Tuesday of all international military offices and workplaces in a bid to rid them of any material that fosters a sexually aggressive or generally hostile work environment.
The examinations will mirror an Air Force search last year that forced troops to remove any inappropriate photos, calendars, periodicals, screen-savers or computer content from their desks and cubicles, according to the Military Times. The decision to scrub content that’s degrading to women comes after the officer in charge of the Air Force’s sexual assault program, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, was charged with sexual battery for allegedly groping a woman in a parking lot.
Air Force lawyers asked to have the case transferred to the military justice system but were rebuffed by prosecutors who wanted to keep the case under their own jurisdiction in Arlington County, Virginia.
Every branch of the military will be subjected to the searches,
which are expected to be completed by July 1.
Hagel also released new figures from the Defense Department indicating an average of 70 troops every day endure some type of sexual harassment. Of the approximately 26,000 active-duty service members, one in every 50 experiences “unwanted sexual contact” each day.
“We need a cultural change where every service member is treated with dignity and respect,” Hagel said. “This department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of [sexual assault] and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need.”
The Pentagon’s estimate shows that the number of troops who are victimized has increased by 35 per cent since 2010, USA Today reported, from 19,300 to 26,000 (including both men and women). That evidence doesn’t account for the number of unreported – or ignored – instances. Of the estimated 26,000 assaults, less than 3,400 victims reported the incident.
US President Barack Obama, following Krusinski’s arrest, demanded that any military member found guilty of sexual assault be fired and prosecuted.
“I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training, or ultimately folks look the other way,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game and go after this hard.”
Along with searching troops’ working quarters, Hagel said the military would work to reduce the stigma for victims of reporting sexual assault, hold offenders accountable, and enhance sexual abuse prevention programs.
But Congressional leaders were dumbfounded that these practices hadn’t already been entrenched in military culture. Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) admonished Air Force Secretary Michael Donley on Krusinski’s case during a conference with the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.
“If the man in charge for the Air Force in preventing sexual assault is being alleged to have committed a sexual assault this weekend, obviously there’s a failing in training and understanding of what sexual assault is, and how corrosive and damaging it is to good order and discipline and how it is undermining the credibility of the greatest military force in the world,” she said.