The Army has disqualified 588 soldiers from holding “positions of trust” as sexual assault counselors, recruiters, and drill sergeants, USA TODAY reports. The US military has faced multiple public scandals over the past few years, prompting officials to order a crackdown on the sexual assault issue within all branches of the military.
Soldiers were disqualified for infractions such as sexual assault, child abuse, and drunk driving. The number of soldiers disqualified is 10 times higher than the initial number the Army reported last summer after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced “a set of measures to reform the military justice system” including increased screenings for those in sensitive positions.
In December, President Obama directed the military to address its sexual assault epidemic or face tougher reforms, saying the military has “an urgent obligation” to punish perpetrators of sexual assault. During 2013, several cases of military sexual assault were made public, highlighting an environment of victim-blaming and cover-ups.
In many of the cases, the perpetrators of acts of sexual violence were not punished for their actions. Victims have described an environment of fear in which they were blamed, dismissed, or bullied. Some reported being threatened when they came forward to report an assault. “If you want a career, you don’t want to say anything because you get retaliated against,” an Air Force veteran told a House oversight committee last year.
Last March, in response to the sexual assault case of Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to discuss the issue of rampant sexual assault in the military. Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) initiated efforts to address the environment of pardoning perpetrators and blaming victims.
Approximately 3,000 sexual assault complaints are filed throughout all branches of the military every year, though estimates suggests the actual number of sexual assaults occurring each year is closer to 19,000. Many victims likely do not report cases of sexual assault due to fear of retribution.
President Obama has given the military one year to make progress on the issue. “If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks and protect our brave service members who stand guard for us every day at home and around the world,” Obama said in December.
Other branches reported few, if any, issues after completing their screenings last summer, USA TODAY reports. The Navy dropped three of 5,125 recruiters and two of 4,739 counselors. The Air Force and Marine Corps did not disqualify any of their service members.