The Denver Post

Trusted Army officers turn alleged assailants

At least 10 soldiers and civilians have been investigat­ed over the past year

- By Craig Whitlock

The Army is grappling with a resurgence of cases in which troops responsibl­e for preventing sexual assault have been accused of rape and related crimes, undercutti­ng the Pentagon’s claims that it is making progress against sexual violence in the ranks.

In the most recent case, an Army prosecutor in charge of sexual assault investigat­ions in the Southwest was charged by the military last month with putting a knife to the throat of a lawyer he had been dating and raping her on two occasions, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

A soldier at Fort Sill, Okla., who was certified as a sexual-assault-prevention officer was convicted at a court-martial in May of five counts of raping a preteen girl.

Army officials confirmed to The Washington Post that eight other soldiers and civilians trained to deter sex offenses or help victims have been investigat­ed over the past year in connection with sexual assault. The Army would not provide details, saying many of the investigat­ions are pending.

Other branches of the armed forces have faced their own embarrassm­ents. The deputy director of the Air Force’s office of sexual assault prevention at the Pentagon resigned last year after the Air Force inspector general rebuked him for making sexually inappropri­ate comments and creating “an intimidati­ng and offensive working environmen­t,” according to a confidenti­al report obtained by The Post under the Freedom of Informatio­n Act.

For the armed forces, the cases are a painful reminder of similar scandals that erupted in 2013. That year, the Air Force’s chief sexual-assault-prevention officer at the Pentagon was accused of groping a woman outside a bar; he was later acquitted by a civilian jury but reprimande­d by the military. An Army sergeant in charge of helping sexual assault victims at Fort Hood, Texas, was convicted of pandering for pimping female soldiers.

In addition, each of the military services

was tainted by reports of young women being assaulted by uniformed recruiters.

With angry lawmakers in Congress demanding a crackdown, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the armed forces in May 2013 to retrain and rescreen tens of thousands of military recruiters and sexual-assault-prevention officers. Despite the new measures, incidents kept hap- pening.

Five months after Hagel’s order, a soldier attending a sexual-assault-prevention conference in Orlando was accused of getting drunk and raping a woman at his hotel. The Army investigat­ed but did not file charges because the woman declined to cooperate.

Since then, the military has invested millions of additional dollars in sexual-assault-awareness programs. Training is mandatory for everyone in uniform. Top brass promised to redouble their efforts to punish offenders and protect victims.

“We’ve been putting extraordin­ary resources into this area,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, chairman of the House Armed Services subcommitt­ee for military personnel. “Of all the issues we have on my committee, we have spent more time on sexual assault than any other issue.”

Coffman said military leaders have come a long way in addressing the problem but added that more needs to be done. He said Army leaders have briefed him about the sexual-assault-prevention officers who have gotten in trouble and said they are reviewing how people are selected for those posts.

“We always need to look at the screening and look where the screening failed,” he said in an interview. But in comparison to past scandals, he said, “the Army has gotten the message an awful lot quicker.”

Last year, the Defense Department received 6,172 reports of sexual assault in the ranks — a new high and almost twice as many as were reported in 2010. Pentagon officials have called the increase an encouragin­g sign that more victims are willing to come forward and trust the military to help them.

To tackle the problem, the Army employs 650 fulltime sexual assault response coordinato­rs and victim advocates, plus 2,200 others who work part-time. In the past year, eight of them have been accused of sexual assault, triggering criminal investigat­ions by a combinatio­n of military and civilian authoritie­s, said William J. Sharp, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

Officials from the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Air Force told The Post that none of their personnel involved in sexual assault prevention have been investigat­ed for sex crimes over the past year.

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