WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday ordered the military to recertify all 25,000 people involved in programs designed to prevent and respond to sexual assault, an acknowledgement that assaults have escalated beyond the Pentagon’s control.
He said this step, which also applies to the military’s approximately 19,000 recruiters and must be completed by July 1, is one among many that will be taken to fix the problem of sexual abuse and sexual harassment within every branch of the military.
At a news conference with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hagel said he believes alcohol use is “a very big factor” in many sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, but there are many pieces to the problem.
He and Dempsey spoke one day after all of the military’s leadership were summoned to the White House to discuss the sexual assault problem with President Barack Obama, who has expressed impatience with the Pentagon’s failure to solve it.
At his Pentagon news conference, Hagel said it has become clear to him since taking office in February that holding people
accountable for their actions is important, but simply firing people is not a solution. He said he gets a lot of advice on that.
He said some ask him, “Well, why don’t you just fire some people?” He said his answer is, “Well, yeah, we could do that. And, you know, who are you going to fire?”
Hagel signed a one-page memorandum addressed to the uniformed chiefs and civilian heads of each of the military services requiring that the credentials and qualifications of all recruiters, sexual assault response coordinators and sexual assault victim advocates be reviewed to ensure that they meet current standards.
They also will be given refresher training on professional ethics and the impact of violations. “I am concerned that this department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime — and the perception that there is tolerance of it — could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission, and to recruit and retain good people,” Hagel wrote.