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Pentagon targets military sex assaults

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 8:50 PM EST, Wed January 18, 2012
"The United States military has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "One sexual assault is one too many," Defense Secretary Panetta says
  • Military spouses, civilian workers become eligible for military sex assault programs
  • Sex assaults are "a stain on the good honor of the great majority of our troops," Panetta says

Washington (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta outlined new measures Wednesday targeting sexual assaults against U.S military personnel, saying he has "no higher responsibility than to protect those who are protecting America."

"Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line every day to try to keep America safe," Panetta said at a Pentagon announcement Wednesday. "We have a moral duty to keep them safe from those who would attack their dignity and their honor. That's why I've been so concerned by the problem of sexual assault in the military."

The Pentagon has been under congressional and legal pressure to fight harder against sexual assault in the ranks.

Panetta, at a Pentagon announcement Wednesday, said 3,191 sexual assaults were reported last year.

"One sexual assault is one too many," Panetta said.

The new initiatives include a credentialing program for military sex assault response coordinators and victim advocates that would be "aligned with national standards," Panetta said.

"I'm committed to providing you the support and resources that you need and to taking whatever steps are necessary to keep what happened to you from happening to others," he said.

Panetta: "One assault is one too many"

Military spouses and adult dependents will be able to file confidential sex assault reports and get victim support services, he said. Civilians working for the Defense Department abroad, including contractors in combat areas, will also become eligible for "emergency care and the help of a response coordinator and victim advocate," Panetta said.

"The United States military has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault, and we will hold the perpetrators appropriately accountable," he said.

Panetta promised increased funding to train military investigators and judge advocates about sexual assault cases.

A system to track sexual assault reports and monitor cases is being established "so that we'll have a comprehensive database for information available later this year," Panetta said.

"Sexual assault has no place in this department," he said. "It is an affront to the basic American values we defend and it is a stain on the good honor of the great majority of our troops and our families."

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