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How can Chuck Hagel fix military sexual assault epidemic? (+video)

President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have stressed to graduates of the US military academies that rampant rates of sexual assault could corrode the force.

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Yet experts say it is crucial to change the way the Pentagon looks at sexual assault. Currently, the military treats sexual assault as a women's issue, retired Maj. Gen. Robert Shadley tells The Washington Post. Instead, it should treat the charges as a "force protection issue." 

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“This is not a women’s rights issue, it’s an abuse of power," says Shadley, who presided over the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland during a sex-assault scandal in the 1990s. "We should have the same person who’s worried about protecting soldiers from enemy attack in charge of protecting soldiers from sexual predators. Until you make prevention of sexual assault a part of everyday life of the organization, it’s going to be considered a secondary thing.”

His proposed solution is to put sexual-assault prevention in the hands of each unit's chief operations officer. At the moment, these efforts are handled by specialized units, which has the effect of marginalizing the issue, he says. "This has got to be an operational issue.”

Others suggest that the prohibition against women in combat also has a corrosive effect. For one, in an organization built on the premise of warfighting, those who are barred from serving in combat zones are seen as second-class citizens and lose a degree of respect.

"That reinforced the traditional notion [among men in uniform] that there are differences between men and women: 'Women are not our equals,' " David Segal, a military sociologist at the University of Maryland in College Park, tells USA Today. " 'They're not allowed to be 100 percent soldiers. They're not part of our culture.' "

But the ban on women in combat might also have another effect. Without being able to serve in combat, women in the military face a glass ceiling. Obama could appoint more women to Pentagon posts, but women's ability to rise through the ranks in the military itself is affected by the ban.

“Quite frankly, we need to have people like [Obama adviser] Valerie Jarrett and Michelle Obama in the room,” Ana Cruz, a Democratic strategist, told Politico. “You can’t have a bunch of men sitting around a table talking about this issue when it clearly goes to the heart of violating women’s rights.”


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