WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signed an order Friday requiring the military to review and recertify each person assigned to programs for preventing sexual assault and assisting victims.
The order requires a "review of credentials and qualifications of current-serving recruiters, sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates," and imposes "refresher training" for the approximately 25,000 personnel who are assigned to these programs.
Hagel was responding to growing outrage — across the armed services and the public at large, in Congress and even from President Barack Obama — at the high number of sexual assaults, the failure of military efforts to reduce the problem and inadequacies in assisting victims.
"We all have committed to turn this around, and we're going to fix the problem," Hagel said at a news conference. "The problem will be solved here, in this institution, and we will fix it."
Even so, military officers acknowledged that recertification and retraining efforts, while helpful, were unlikely to prevent the type of assaults and violations of regulations that have so galvanized public attention.
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Hagel at the news conference, and said "the emphasis on prevention is especially important."
"We can and must do more to change a culture that has become too complacent," Dempsey said.
He drew a historic parallel when he noted that, almost four decades ago when he was a young officer, "racial issues and drug abuse tore at the fabric of our service. The Army was broken."
To fix those problems within the military required "moral leadership and a recommitment to professionalism," Dempsey said, and the military successfully "restored trust in the ranks and trust between us and the American people." A similar effort is required to solve what he has called a crisis of sexual assault across the military.
Hagel said he was considering all proposals to reduce sexual assaults, but he declined to endorse any specific proposed legislation, including a measure that would remove adjudication from commanders and give it to a panel outside the victim's chain of command.