U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly, D-In., joined a chorus of lawmakers on the Armed Services Committee who berated top military leaders over the rise of sexual assault in the armed forces.
In recent months, a series of reports have uncovered a spike in rape and other sexual assault cases against men and women that have been called “terrifying” and a “cancer” despite efforts to curb the problem.
Last month, a study conducted by The Pentagon showed a 35 percent increase in estimated sexual abuse incidents in 2012 compared to 2010.
Speaking at the committee hearing on Tuesday, Donnelly told military commanders they have an obligation to address stop sexual assault and to provide for the psychological needs of survivors.
“I was at the Indy 500 a week before the race, and we inducted a couple hundred men and women into the service. And I want to be able to know when I look them in the eyes, that I can keep my obligation to tell them that you can serve our country, serve with dignity, have your dignity respected, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly’s office says the senator believes more needs to be done for survivors and the military should have a safe and confidential place where armed service members who have been assaulted can go for help.
The U.S. military is struggling to find effective ways of tackling sexual assault despite general agreement that there is an epidemic. And the overall tone of the hearing shows lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are becoming increasingly frustrated over the issue.
Few have been as outspoken as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY., who questioned whether mostly the male commanders could distinguish between minor offenses and serious crimes.
Gillibrand has introduced one of the seven measures being debated in the Senate, which would strip commanding officers of the authority to decide when criminal charges are filed along with their ability to convene courts-martial.
Sen. John McCain, R-Az., is a Navy veteran, who told military leaders he could not in good conscience recommend service for young women due to the rise in sexual assaults.
“I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment over the continued reports of sexual misconduct in our military. We’ve been talking about the issue for years, and talk is insufficient,” McCain said.