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Defense targets sexual assault

Panetta says 3,191 incidents were reported in 2011, but estimates the true number is closer to 19,000.

ZUMA Press/Newscom

The Defense Department will add several new initiatives as part of its efforts to curb sexual assaults, Secretary Leon Panetta has announced.

The news comes on the heels of two policy changes introduced in December 2011 along with the release of an annual report on sexual assault at military academies.

Panetta said 3,191 sexual assaults were reported in the military last year and called the crime, "a stain on the good honor of the great majority of our troops and their families."

Because most victims do not report sexual assaults, it's likely the true number of military incidents in 2011 approached 19,000, he said.

The military academies reported 65 cases of sexual assault, but Defense estimated the actual number at about 520, according to the December report.

The initiatives announced this week include the creation of a Defense sexual assault advocate certification program and a requirement that sexual assault advocates and response coordinators at the department obtain credentials that meet national standards.

Defense also will increase training funds for investigators and judge advocates by $9.3 million over five years and create an integrated data system to track reports and manage assault cases.

"Sexual assault cases are some of the toughest cases to investigate and prosecute," Panetta said.

Support for sexual assault victims, such as victim advocate services, now will be available for military spouses and dependents. Spouses and dependents also will be able to file confidential reports, Panetta said. In addition, the department's civilian employees stationed abroad and U.S. Defense contractors in combat areas will be able to receive these services.

Panetta will direct an assessment, due in May, to determine how to strengthen training of commanding officers and enlisted leadership on sexual assault prevention and response.

He noted that some of the proposals may require legislative action.

"There's much more work to be done to prevent this crime, and we will be announcing additional initiatives over the coming weeks and months," he said. "I deeply regret that such crimes occur in the U.S. military, and I will do all I can to prevent these sexual assaults from occurring in the Department of Defense."