Sergeant trained to protect victims faces sexual assault allegations

Photo provided by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/Defense Dept.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 9:00am

An Army sergeant first class assigned to a sexual assault prevention program at Fort Hood, Texas, is under investigation for sexual assault, pandering, abusive sexual contact and maltreatment of subordinates.

An administration official told CNN's Barbara Starr on Wednesday that it's possible that prostitution-related activity was involved, but investigators have not yet determined the scope of that and potential criminal misconduct.

The service member, who has not named, has been suspended from all duties.

The allegations come as the military is under scrutiny for sexual assaults within its ranks. The number of service members anonymously reporting a sexual assault grew by more than 30% in the past two years, according to a Pentagon report released last week.

The Defense Department estimated that more than 26,000 troops experienced "unwanted sexual contact," a significant jump from the 19,300 figure in a 2010 report.

As the military makes the historic move, announced earlier this year, to open combat roles to women, the department's own research indicates that both genders are victimized. Consider that 10,700 of the 19,300 troops were men, according to the 2010 report.

A Defense Department statement about the Fort Hood case doesn't use pronouns, so it's unclear if the sergeant is a man or woman.

Special agents from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command are conducting the probe. Charges had not been filed as of Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was told about the case Tuesday and met with Army Secretary John McHugh.

"I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply," Defense Department spokesman George Little said of Hagel.

Hagel has ordered that all service members working in sexual assault prevention units be retrained and screened again. If they pass, they will get new credentials.

That should also apply to personnel and military recruiters.

An Air Force officer who was arrested about a week ago on allegations that he attacked a woman and groped her buttocks and breasts in an Arlington, Virginia, parking lot was a personnel officer by training, said Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff.

In February, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was placed in charge of a branch of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, and he oversaw a five-person office, an Air Force official told CNN after the incident. The official declined to be named, citing the ongoing law enforcement case.

Shortly after Krusinski's arrest, military officials appeared before a congressional panel for an already scheduled hearing on sexual assault in the military. Welsh described Krusinski when he was asked what made him qualified to work in the sex assault prevention program.

Krusinski, 41, is a 1994 graduate of the Air Force Academy who served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He made an initial court appearance last week. He did not enter a plea.

During the hearing, lawmakers brought up yet another case that has made headlines involving sexual assault. Lt. Col. James Wilkerson III was found guilty last year by a jury of Air Force officers of sexually assaulting a woman at his home outside Aviano Air Base in Italy.

He spent four months in a Navy brig before Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the convening authority in the case, threw out the verdict.

Franklin was the officer who ordered Wilkerson's court-martial at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. But military law allowed him to have the final say.

"After considering all matters in the entire record of trial, I hold a genuine and reasonable doubt that Lt. Col. Wilkerson committed the crime of sexual assault," Franklin said in a letter to the Air Force secretary released publicly this week.

Pentagon officials told CNN that it is rare for charges to be dismissed in this manner. The decision angered victims' rights groups and some members of Congress.

"I am extremely disturbed," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, who chaired a hearing last month on the issue. "I don't know how you can say that having 19,000 sexual assaults and rapes a year is discipline and order."

Reports of sexual assault appear to be weighing heavily on higher-ranking officers.

"This is so contrary to everything upon which the Army was built," McHugh, the Army secretary, has said during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee defense subcommittee. "To see this kind of activity happening in our ranks is really heart-wrenching and sickening."

He spoke generally about sex abuse crimes in the military.

"As I said to our new Brigadier General Corps when I spoke to them about two weeks ago, 'You can do everything from this point forward in your military career perfectly, but if you fail on this, you have failed the Army,' " McHugh reportedly said.

There were 3,374 sexual crimes reported in the military in fiscal year 2012, a 6% increase over the previous year, according to the Defense Department report issued last week.

Military officials worry that many victims don't come forward because they fear retaliation. But the numbers might indicate that more victims are willing to report crimes than in the past.On Monday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon said he was outraged and disgusted by the Fort Hood allegations.

He called the case the "latest chapter in a long, sordid history of sexual abuse" in the military.

The military was rocked in the early 1990s by the Tailhook scandal. A female Navy lieutenant said she had been sexually assaulted at a military convention by other service members.

McKeon, a California Republican, has a granddaughter in the Army.

"I see no meaningful distinction between complacency or complicity in the military's latest failure to uphold their own standards of conduct," he said. "Nor do I see a distinction between the service member who orchestrated this offense and the chain of command that was either oblivious to or tolerant of criminal behavior."

CNN's Barbara Starr, Dana Ford, Larry Shaughnessy and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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