WASHINGTON - Sexual assaults in the military are a growing epidemic across the services, and thousands of victims are still unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs, according to a new Pentagon report.
Troubling numbers estimate that up to 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, according to survey results.
The report was released Tuesday and comes just days after the Air Force's head of sexual-assault prevention was arrested on a charge of groping a woman in a Virginia parking lot. And it follows a heated debate over whether commanders should be stripped of the authority to overturn military jury verdicts, such as one officer did in a recent sexual-assault conviction.
In a sharp rebuke Tuesday, President Obama said that he had no tolerance for the problem and that he had talked to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about it. "I don't want just more speeches or awareness programs or training, or ultimately folks look the other way," he said.
The documents show that the number of sexual assaults actually reported by members of the military rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012. But a survey of personnel who were not required to reveal their identities showed the number of service members actually assaulted could be as many as 26,000, but they never reported the incidents, officials said Tuesday.
Across Capitol Hill, lawmakers Tuesday demanded the Pentagon take more aggressive steps to address the growing problem and they announced renewed efforts to pass legislation.
This week's sexual-battery arrest of Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who headed the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, provided a rallying point for lawmakers, who held it up as an example of the Pentagon's failure to make progress.
Members of Congress are putting together legislation to essentially strip military officers of the authority to overturn convictions for serious offenses such as sexual assault. The measure stems from congressional outrage over an Air Force officer's decision to reverse a jury verdict in a sexual-assault case.
According to the Pentagon report, of the 1.4 million active-duty personnel, 6.1 percent of active-duty women - or 12,100 - say they experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012, a sharp increase over the 8,600 who said that in 2010. For men, the number increased from 10,700 to 13,900. A majority of the offenders were military members or Defense Department civilians or contractors, the report said.
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force's chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley were "appalled" by the charges against Krusinski.
Welsh said that while the Krusinski case is being adjudicated by the Arlington County, Va., prosecutor, the Air Force has requested jurisdiction. He said that Krusinski would be arraigned Thursday on one count of sexual battery and that an Arlington County prosecutor will decide the jurisdiction question.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) pressed Welsh on what qualifications Krusinski had for the job and whether there were any red flags in his records.