Federal Daily News
Gates defends DoD on its handling of sexual assault cases
- By FederalDaily Staff
- February 18, 2011
In response to a lawsuit that DoD mishandled cases of sexual assault, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the department has zero tolerance for sexual assaults and is making headway in preventing them.
In testimony Feb. 16 to the House Armed Services Committee on DoD’s fiscal 2012 budget request, Gates responded to a congressman’s question about a class-action lawsuit filed this week in which a group of 17 former and current servicemembers (15 women and two men) claimed that Gates and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld took inadequate steps to prevent them from being raped, sexually assaulted or sexually harassed.
The plaintiffs serve or served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Reserves. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., asked the judge to order the Pentagon to hand over investigations of alleged abuse to a neutral third party.
Limiting his response in light of that lawsuit, Gates said the matter is of “grave concern,” and that he is working closely with military leaders to address the issue.
“I have zero tolerance for sexual assault, and I’ve worked with Chairman Mullen and the Joint Chiefs and the service secretaries to see if we’re doing all we can to prevent and respond to sexual assaults,” he said.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., a member of the committee, urged Gates to require the services to provide a military lawyer to any victim of sexual assault. DoD was supposed to be studying the matter, but had been resisting moving ahead with such legal protections for victims, Tsongas said. Gates said such representation sounded reasonable and he would look into the matter.
To see more go to: www.jcs.mil/newsarticle.aspx?ID=531 (DoD) or http://tsongas.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=49§iontree=123,49&itemid=485 (Tsongas).