This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – With both the Army and Air Force rocked by sexual violence charges against personnel tasked with preventing sexual assaults, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill wants to mandate strict new criteria for officers in such jobs.
“When you have two incidents in two different branches of the military within 30 days of each other, then you realize that you need to scrub what’s going on and start over – recertify, retrain and re-qualify all the people that are doing these jobs,” McCaskill said.
On Wednesday, McCaskill and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. -- both of whom are former prosecutors – introduced a bill to require the Pentagon to establish strict new criteria for personnel assigned to sexual assault prevention.
“If the job to prevent sexual assault is not taken seriously, then sexual assault is not going to be taken seriously,” said McCaskill, saying she feared that many officers assigned to such posts are “not on a positive career trajectory.”
Late Tuesday, the Army said it was investigating allegations of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates against a sergeant who works in Fort Hood’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Response program. A week earlier, the Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention was arrested outside a bar in Virginia and later accused of sexual battery.
“You can’t make this stuff up. This is just unbelievable,” McCaskill said of the incidents, assuming that the charges are proven. She told reporters that her bill is “an attempt to prod the military into taking these jobs more seriously and getting better officers into those positions.”
The McCaskill-Klobuchar bill would require the Defense Secretary to:
- Review the training, qualifications and experience of personnel responsible for sexual assault prevention and response within the military services, as well as current training and certification programs for these personnel.
- Take “corrective action” (such as retraining, re-certifying or re-assigning) any personnel assigned to such posts without the necessary qualifications.
- Set minimum levels for training, qualifications and experience necessary for military and civilian personnel responsible for sexual assault prevention and response.
“While we have made some progress in establishing new policies to address sexual assault in the ranks, recent events are a chilling reminder that we need to do more to address this horrible crime,” Klobuchar said in a statement.
Last week, McCaskill and Klobuchar had sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, urging him to strengthen sexual assault prevention programs in the military. They suggested that he elevate the rank of the personnel assigned to lead sexual assault prevention and response programs and ensure that the leaders of such programs have the necessary experience and qualifications.
Late Tuesday, Hagel ordered the armed service to “retrain, re-credential and re-screen” tens of thousands of military recruiters and sexual assault prevention officers. Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel was angered by the latest reports and pledged to change the culture.
“I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply,” Little said in a statement.