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Sexual assault remains ‘tremendous problem’ for military, lawmaker says

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. (Elena Schneider/Medill News Service)

A House committee will take a closer look at the “tremendous problem” of sexual assault in the military following a damning report on the service academies, the chairwoman of a House subpanel said Thursday.

The comments, which were part of a House Appropriations Committee subpanel hearing on the quality of life in the military, highlighted recent Defense Department findings that reports of sexual assaults at academies have risen dramatically.

The subpanel’s new chairwoman told the panel of military leaders that the findings painted a “devastating portrait.”

“Sexual assault in the military continues to be a … really tremendous problem,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D.-Fla., chairwoman of the subpanel on military construction, veterans’ issues and other related concerns. “In all branches of the services, it begins, it seems, right from the academies.”

Claims of sexual assaults at U.S. military service academies have increased by nearly 50 percent since 2016, according to survey results released last week. The Defense Department’s “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Service Academies” included an anonymous survey of servicemembers that found 50 percent of women and 16 percent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment.

“If there’s one thing I could rid from our Army tomorrow morning, this would be it. …That’s the way we’ve got to come to work every day,” said Army Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey. “The information we received on the academies is disheartening. That’s the future of our Army’s officer corps and we’ve got to do a better job of getting after it. And we’ve got to do a better job of changing the culture of the individuals who come there.”

The exchange was part of a wide-ranging discussion on challenges facing military personnel, such as lawmaker concerns that military leaders must improve oversight of private housing plagued with dilapidated conditions.

Wasserman Schultz said her committee would closely monitor oversight of sexual assault concerns. Congressional lawmakers issue required recommendations for their constituents to attend the Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.; the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.; and the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Each member of Congress nominates young men and women that we send to your academies and we look those parents in the eyes,” Wasserman Schultz said. “My gut has turned worrying about whether one of these young women and men will fall victim to sexual assault and have their life altered forever, so this is something that absolutely must change.”

Schultz went on to say that military leaders must instill a culture that is one of respect and that it will be a standard her committee will hold for the services. As a result, the services must see a marked improvement in its reports on sexual harassment and assault.

“I want to make sure that you each of you understands that this committee is going to make sure that we hold each of the branches responsible to make an appreciable difference in the numbers that are absolutely appalling.”


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