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Is Military Doing Enough for Sexual Assaults?

That was the question being asked at a grim congressional hearing this morning, “Sexual Assaults in the Military: Part II.”

Part I gained some notoriety when Dr. Kaye Whitley, director of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention and response office, defied a subpoena from the House oversight national security subcommittee and didn’t show up. Today Whitley, on orders from Defense Sec. Robert Gates, did appear– and gave her explanation for why she didn’t show up the first time.

“I was in a van and we pulled up in front of the [House Rayburn] building,” Whitley told Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.). “Then Mr. [Michael] Dominguez [a deputy undersecretary for defense and Whitley's superior] said I would not testify. He gave me a direct order.”

“Did you ask why?” Shays asked.

“I didn’t really have time,” Whitley replied, “and I thought following advice from superiors was the best course of action.”

Shays later called Whitley “weak” and committee members from both parties piled on the Pentagon for still not assembling the resources and strategy necessary to meaningfully combat sexual assault. The Pentagon reported that 2,700 woman were assaulted by servicemembers in 2007. A Government Accountability Office representative at the hearing said that more than half of the military personnel they surveyed that were assaulted did not report the crime.

Whitley’s sexual assault and prevention office was established in 2005. But the Pentagon division has less than a dozen staff members and no plan to instill what former Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld called “zero tolerance” for sexual assault.

“There have been 18 reports on sexual assault in the military since 1988,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), “And they haven’t done anything.”

To be fair, the GAO report at the hearing said the Pentagon has improved methods for reporting assaults while protecting the victim’s confidentiality. But the small improvements made have not been implemented in combat environments.

So the sideshow of Whitley finally showing up to testify should not distract from the lack of resources available to active-duty soldiers that

+have been assaulted.

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