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Washington • A soldier assigned to coordinate a sexual assault prevention program in Texas is under investigation for "abusive sexual contact" and other alleged misconduct and has been suspended from his duties, the Army announced Wednesday.
The announcement came just one week after an Air Force officer who headed a sexual assault prevention office was himself arrested on charges of groping a woman in a parking lot.
The two cases highlight a problem that is drawing increased scrutiny in the Congress and expressions of frustration from top Pentagon leaders. Pentagon press secretary George Little said after Wednesday's announcement that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is angry and disappointed at "these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement Wednesday evening saying his panel is considering a number of measures to counter the problem, including changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and will act on them next month.
"Tragically, the depth of the sexual assault problem in our military was already overwhelmingly clear before this latest highly disturbing report," Levin said.
The Army said a sergeant first class, whose name was not released, is accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates. He is being investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command, but no charges have been filed, the Army said.
He had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters at Fort Hood, Texas, when the allegation arose, the Army said.
"To protect the integrity of the investigative process and the rights of all persons involved, no more information will be released at this time," an Army statement said.
Army Secretary John McHugh apprised Hagel on Wednesday morning of the allegations against the soldier at Fort Hood and said the Army is moving forward with Hagel's instruction to retrain, re-credential and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.
The announcement comes as the Pentagon continues to struggle with what it calls a growing epidemic of sexual assaults across the military. In a report last week, the Defense Department estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, based on survey results.
Of those, fewer than 3,400 reported the incident, and nearly 800 of them simply sought help but declined to file formal complaints against their alleged attackers.
The military is struggling with a variety of sexual assault scandals, including an ongoing investigation into more than 30 Air Force instructors for assaults on trainees at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and the recent arrest of the Air Force's head of sexual assault prevention on charges of groping a woman in a Northern Virginia parking lot.
A police report said that Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was drunk and grabbed a woman's breast and buttocks. The woman fought him off and called police, the report said. A judge has set a July 18 trial date in Krusinski's case.
Congressional outrage over these incidents and two recent decisions by officers to overturn jurys' guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases has prompted outrage on Capitol Hill.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin reversed the conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy, who was found guilty last year of charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
And Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is holding up the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, tapped to serve as vice commander of the U.S. Space Command, until McCaskill gets more information about Helms' decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case.
Lawmakers are pursuing legislation that would strip officers of that power to overturn convictions. Members of Congress also met at the White House with senior administration officials to talk about measures to encourage more victims to come forward and ensure that perpetrators face justice.