The U.S. Army is taking drastic measures to reduce rampant sexual assault rates in the service.
Effective immediately, all soldiers convicted of sexual offenses will be discharged from the Army. The move was announced yesterday by Army spokesperson Maj. Christopher Kasker.
“Purging convicted sex offenders from the ranks is just one of the steps Secretary McHugh is taking to combat sexual harassment and assault in the Army,” Kasker said. “The message is simple: Sexual assault is a crime, and it will not be tolerated,”
Discharge proceedings on all soldiers currently residing in the United States will begin immediately. Deployed soldiers will be brought back to the United States as soon as possible to begin their proceedings as well.
The Pentagon announced that soldier discharge proceedings will begin even for soldiers who were evaluated for retention and allowed to stay following their conviction.
The move is being announced right as the Senate is set to debate how future sexual assault cases will be handled in the military. The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) looks to strip military officials from persecuting a number of crimes, including sexual assault. If this portion of the act is enacted, the authority to prosecute or toss out sexual assault cases would be stripped from military commanders and given to trained military lawyers. The Senate is currently divided on the issue, with Democrats favoring the amendment and Republicans opposing it.
Regardless of what happens with the NDAA amendment, the Pentagon has acknowledged that sexual assault is severely under-reported in the military. A recent study estimates that only 3,192 of a likely 26,000 sexual assault instances were reported in 2011. However, the increased attention towards sexual offenses appears to be leading to more accurate assault reporting. In 2012, 3,553 assault incidents were reported in the third quarter of the fiscal year alone, a 46% increase from the prior year.