Pentagon brass, Congress meet to end sexual assault in military

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Top defense officials this week met with members of Congress to address sexual assault in the military — the fourth such meeting since September, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Navy Adm. James “Sandy” Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the vice chiefs of the four services met privately Wednesday with about a dozen senators and representatives at the Pentagon to discuss the topic, said Army Lt. Col. Pat Seiber, a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs.

During the 45-minute question-and-answer session, the military officials said they want to work with Congress to curb sexual assault in the military, which occurs an estimated 19,000 times a year, according to Pentagon statistics.

“We’ve got more to do, but we want to establish ongoing dialogue,” Col. Seiber said. “It’s a very important issue. And the services are working hard together on this.”

The meeting was held the same day that a documentary featuring survivors of sexual assault in the military titled, “The Invisible War,” was screened at the New America Foundation in Washington.

Former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, who watched the movie for the first time at the screening, told the audience that she didn’t think sexual assault was given enough attention at the level it deserved during her time at the Pentagon. She served in the Defense Department from 2009 to last February.

Ms. Flournoy praised the efforts of outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who in April raised the level at which an assault must be reported in the chain of command.

However, the problem is systemic and has to do with the everyday climate military men and women work in, and will require cultural change as well as good military leadership, she told the audience.

Also speaking at the event, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, said that Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel has seen the documentary and has committed himself to work with Congress.

“The Congress will hold the military accountable for this problem,” Mrs. Gillibrand said.

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