Soldier in sexual assault office accused of abuse

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a joint news conference with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, Monday, April 29, 2013, at the Pentagon. Hagel said the U.S. and its allies are still trying to figure out details of Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons against its own people, also saying U.S. and allied intelligence agencies are "continuing to assess what happened, when, where and so on." (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a joint news conference with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, Monday, April 29, 2013, at the Pentagon. Hagel said the U.S. and its allies are still trying to figure out details of Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons against its own people, also saying U.S. and allied intelligence agencies are "continuing to assess what happened, when, where and so on." (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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(AP) — A soldier assigned to coordinate a sexual assault prevention program in Texas is under investigation for "abusive sexual contact" and other alleged misconduct and has been suspended from his duties, the Army announced Tuesday.

Just last week an Air Force officer who headed a sexual assault prevention office was himself arrested on charges of groping a woman in a parking lot.

The Army said a sergeant first class, whose name was not released, is accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates. He is being investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. No charges have been filed.

He had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army's 3rd Corps headquarters at Fort Hood, Texas, when the allegation arose, the Army said.

"To protect the integrity of the investigative process and the rights of all persons involved, no more information will be released at this time," an Army statement said.

The back-to-back Army and Air Force cases highlight a problem that is drawing increased scrutiny in Congress and expressions of frustration from top Pentagon leaders. Pentagon press secretary George Little said after Tuesday's announcement that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is angry and disappointed at "these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply."

Little said Hagel met with Army Secretary John McHugh earlier Tuesday and ordered him to "fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately."

Hagel also is directing all the services to retrain, recredential, and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters, Little said.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement Tuesday evening saying his panel is considering a number of measures to counter the problem, including changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and will act on them next month.

"Tragically, the depth of the sexual assault problem in our military was already overwhelmingly clear before this latest highly disturbing report," Levin said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said she intends to present new comprehensive legislation on Thursday to reform the military justice system by removing chain-of-command influence from prosecution of sex abuse crimes.

"To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement," Gillibrand said. "For the second time in a week we are seeing someone who is supposed to be preventing sexual assault being investigated for committing that very act."

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement he was "outraged and disgusted by the reports out of Fort Hood."

McKeon, noting he has a granddaughter in the Army, said he saw "no meaningful distinction between complacency or complicity in the military's latest failure to uphold their own standards of conduct. Nor do I see a distinction between the service member who orchestrated this offense and the chain of command that was either oblivious to or tolerant of criminal behavior. Both are accountable for this appalling breach of trust with their subordinates."

The Army announcement comes as the Pentagon continues to struggle with what it calls a growing epidemic of sexual assaults across the military. In a report last week, the Defense Department estimated that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, based on survey results.

Of those, fewer than 3,400 reported the incident, and nearly 800 of them simply sought help but declined to file formal complaints against their alleged attackers.

The military is struggling with a variety of sexual assault scandals, including an ongoing investigation into more than 30 Air Force instructors for assaults on trainees at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and the recent arrest of the Air Force's head of sexual assault prevention on charges of groping a woman in a Northern Virginia parking lot.

A police report said that Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was drunk and grabbed a woman's breast and buttocks. The woman fought him off and called police, the report said. A judge has set a July 18 trial date for Krusinski.

Congressional outrage over these incidents and two recent decisions by officers to overturn juries' guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases has prompted outrage on Capitol Hill.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin reversed the conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy, who was found guilty last year of charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

And Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is holding up the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, tapped to serve as vice commander of the U.S. Space Command, until McCaskill gets more information about Helms' decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case.

Members of Congress also met at the White House with senior administration officials to talk about measures to encourage more victims to come forward and ensure that perpetrators face justice.

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.

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Follow Robert Burns on Twitter: https://twitter.com/robertburnsAP

Associated Press

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