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For decades, the U.S. military system has been plagued by an epidemic of reports of sexual abuse and harassment of female military personnel – and allegations that the authorities downplayed or ignored the reports. Eventually the person in charge of the Pentagon found out that this is unacceptable. On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he had asked President Joe Biden to agree to a task force’s recommendations to independently investigate allegations of sexual misconduct outside the military chain of command. It called for independent judicial attorneys to report to a civilian-run office to determine whether charges would be brought after allegations of sexual assault, sexual harassment and some hate crimes. Austin vowed to “end the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military at last.”
Scourge may not go far enough to describe it. According to a Department of Defense survey, there were more than 20,000 military sexual assaults in 2018, only a fraction of which were actually reported. In response to appalling reports of deaths and sexual abuse cases at the huge army base in Fort Hood, Texas, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, have enacted laws requiring military independence review of allegations of misconduct. Austin said he would work with Congress on the matter. Not a minute too early.