Panetta announces new DoD sexual assault initiatives at Capitol Hill meeting

“It’s essential we believe in being able to prevent and respond to the crime of sexual assault,” Panetta said at a press conference following Monday’s meeting. “There’s no silver bullet when to comes to this issue. But what is required is that everyone from the secretary to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs all the way down at every command level be sensitive to this issue, be aware they bear the responsibility to take action on these cases.”

The Pentagon released a report on sexual assault last week that found there were 3,192 reports of sexual assault in 2011, an increase of 1 percent from the year prior. But Defense Department officials say the Pentagon estimates there were 19,000 cases of sexual assault last year, as most went unreported.

Congress has been a frequent critic of the Defense Department for not doing enough to address prosecute sexual assault and care for its victims.

Panetta has said he’s focused on preventing sexual assault and is working to change the culture in the military to eradicate it. In January he announced a new sexual assault report database and expanded victim support.

The Government Accountability Office released a report earlier this month that said the Pentagon had put in place 13 of its 25 recommendations and partially implemented 12.

Panetta said Monday the most important that the military can do is “prosecute the offenders.”

“If we can do that, then we can begin to deal with this issue, to not only prosecute those that are involved, but more importantly send a signal that this is not a problem we are going to ignore in the United States military,” Panetta said.

Sanchez said Monday that she had the support of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) to include the Pentagon’s sexual assault initiatives in the authorization bill. Ten House members, two Republicans and eight Democrats, attended the meeting with Panetta Monday, she said.

Sanchez said the new initiatives would help the Pentagon “work harder at ensuring that the laws are correct, that the culture and the climate of our military changes so that we don’t see sexual assault happening.”