Reporting Mary Bubala
WASHINGTON (WJZ) — As a sexual assault case unfolds at the US Naval Academy, Congress is stepping up the pressure to stop sexual assault in the military.
Mary Bubala the Pentagon’s top officers were on Capitol Hill Tuesday to face tough questions.
As the US Naval Academy in Annapolis deals with an investigation of three of its football players for sexual assault, senators in Washington say the military’s system for handling sexual assault is not working, and it’s time for a change.
“Discipline is at the heart of the military and trust is the soul. The plague of sexual assault erodes both the heart and soul,” said Senator Carl Levin.
Lawmakers are proposing legislation to strip commanders of some of their authority to discipline for forces. That idea faces opposition from the Pentagon’s top brass.
“The role of the commanders should remain central. Our goal should be to make them more accountable, not render them less able to help us correct the crisis,” said Army General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Join Chiefs of Staff.
Sexual abuse is on the rise in the military. The Pentagon estimates there were as many as 26,000 incidents last year.
The military chiefs told lawmakers it is a serious problem.
“These crimes violate everything we stand for and must not be tolerated,” said Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno.
President Barack Obama spoke at the Naval Academy Graduation and addressed the recent issues with sexual assaults within the military.
“Those who commit a sexual assault are not only committing a crime but they threaten the trust and discipline that makes our military strong,” he said.
Just a few days later, news broke that three members of the Naval Academy’s football team were accused of gang-raping a drunken female midshipman.
“She woke up the next morning still at the football house with her back all bruised,” said the victim’s attorney, Susan Burke.
Burke says when the victim reported it to NCIS—the Naval Criminal Investigative Service—she was reprimanded for drinking, while the players went unpunished and were allowed to play football.
The Defense Department reports an estimated 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact, ranging from rape to groping in 2012. That was a 35 percent jump from 2010.