WASHINGTON - Georgia’s senior senator came out strongly against a growing number of sexual assaults in the military, but his remarks about hormones drew attention during a congressional hearing.
Outraged by recent high-profile cases and overwhelming statistics, lawmakers have moved aggressively on legislation to address the scourge of sexual assault. They summoned the military brass to answer their questions at a jam-packed hearing on Tuesday.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss made the comments while addressing the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“The young folks that are coming into each of your services are anywhere from 17 to 23. Gee whiz, the level of hormones created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur,” Chambliss said.
"We've got to be careful of how we address this on our side, but guys, we're not doing our jobs, you're not doing yours, we're not doing ours with the rates we're seeing of sexual assault,” Chambliss added.
Chambliss’ remarks came under fire from leaders at Protect our Defenders, a support group for victims of military sexual assault.
“It appears as if Sen. Chambliss is not reading the reports out of the Pentagon about the epidemic of sexual assault in our military and minimizes what is ongoing failure of our military leaders to address the core reason behind the ongoing crisis,” Brian Purchia said.
Asked for comment by Channel 2's Washington bureau, Chambliss issued a statement late Tuesday that said, "Sexual assault is a deplorable crime that has no place in our military or in our society. I will continue work with my Senate colleagues and the leaders of the Department of Defense to ensure we solve this problem. While we cannot simply pass a law and expect military sexual assault to disappear, we can ensure that military commanders and the chain of command take the appropriate actions to change the culture of the military, to prevent sexual assault from ever occurring, and to guarantee the guilty are punished.”
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, has proposed legislation that would remove commanders from the process of deciding whether serious crimes, including sexual misconduct cases, go to trial. That judgment would rest with seasoned trial counsels who have prosecutorial experience and hold the rank of colonel or above.
Her legislation, which has 18 cosponsors, including four Republicans, also would take away a commander's authority to convene a court-martial. That responsibility would be given to new and separate offices outside the victim's chain of command.
The four-star chiefs told the committee they support Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's April recommendation to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice and largely strip commanding officers of the power to toss out a verdict. The change is included in several of the Senate proposals and likely will be adopted by the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday in its version of the annual defense policy bill.
The Pentagon estimated in a recent report that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year, up from an estimated 19,000 assaults in 2012, based on an anonymous survey of military personnel.
While the number of sexual assaults that members of the military actually reported rose 6 percent to 3,374 in 2012, thousands of victims were still unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs aimed at curbing the crimes, the report said.