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Army investigates sergeant for alleged sexual assault

By Dana Ford, CNN
updated 7:29 AM EDT, Wed May 15, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Prostitution-related activity may have been involved, says an official
  • Service members anonymously reporting a sexual assault grew by more than 30%
  • "No meaningful distinction between complacency or complicity," says Rep. McKeon
  • Soldier was assigned to a sexual harassment and assault response program

(CNN) -- The Army announced Tuesday that a sergeant first class assigned to an assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, is under investigation for sexual assault.

The soldier, who was not named in an Army statement, has been suspended from all duties.

Specifically, the soldier is under investigation for "pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates," the statement said. Special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command are conducting the probe.

No charges have been filed.

"This is so contrary to everything upon which the Army was built," Secretary of the Army John McHugh said during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee Defense subcommittee, according to the statement. "To see this kind of activity happening in our ranks is really heart-wrenching and sickening."

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McHugh spoke generally about sex abuse crimes in the military.

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"As I said to our new Brigadier General Corps when I spoke to them about two weeks ago, 'You can do everything from this point forward in your military career perfectly, but if you fail on this, you have failed the Army'," he reportedly said.

The solider was assigned as a Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program coordinator when the allegations surfaced.

"There is a distinct possibility," that some sort of prostitution-related activity was involved, an administration official told CNN. But investigators have not yet determined the scope of that possibility or the potential criminal misconduct.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was made aware of the case earlier Tuesday.

He met with McHugh and directed him to ensure that "all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately," according to Pentagon spokesman George Little.

"I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply," Little said about his boss.

"To address the broader concerns that have arisen out of these allegations and other recent events, Secretary Hagel is directing all the services to retrain, recredential, and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters," he said.

After sex assault case, Hagel seeks changes to military legal process

According to a Pentagon report released last week, the number of service members anonymously reporting a sexual assault grew by more than 30% in the past two years.

The Defense Department estimated that more than 26,000 troops experienced an episode of "unwanted sexual contact," a huge jump from 19,300 in the 2010 report.

The actual number of sexual crimes reported in fiscal year 2012 was 3,374, a 6% increase over the previous year, the report said.

Military officials worry that many victims don't come forward because they fear retaliation. But the numbers might indicate that more victims are willing to report crimes than in the past.

"I am outraged and disgusted by the reports out of Fort Hood today," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, calling them the "latest chapter in a long, sordid history of sexual abuse" in the military.

The California Republican has a granddaughter in the Army.

"I see 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," he said.

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The allegations of abuse come soon after an Air Force officer was charged with sexual battery stemming from an incident in Northern Virginia.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, a 1994 graduate of the Air Force Academy who served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, was arrested this month and accused of grabbing a woman's buttocks and breasts in a parking lot in Arlington County not far from the Pentagon.

He had been in charge of a military unit aimed at preventing sexual assault.

Krusinski, who has since been removed from that position, made an initial court appearance last week. He did not enter a plea.

"To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement. 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," said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.

She plans to unveil legislation this week that would remove chain of command influence from the prosecution of such offenses.

"We have the best and the brightest serving in our military. We have the greatest military in the world. And we ask everything of them. We ask them to even die for their country. We should not be allowing them to be subject to sexual assault and rape," said Gillibrand.

After top Air Force officer charged in sex assault, military faces questions

CNN's Barbara Starr, Larry Shaughnessy, Steve Almasy and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.

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