WASHINGTON—Poor screening is allowing sex offenders to enter the U.S. military, the Senate Committee on Armed Services heard June 4.
According to Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sex offender screening is inadequate.
“A sex offender could find their way into the armed services,” he said, responding to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who questioned the efficiency of the screening process.
Gen. Dempsey, along the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was part of an 11-member panel that was updating lawmakers about their progress on addressing rampant sexual abuse in the military. Seven bills relating to sexual assault have been introduced in the Senate over the last four months, including five in May.
“There is good reason for the legislative activity,” said Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. “The problem is of such scope and magnitude it has become a stain on our military.”
The number of sexual assaults reported last year—3,374—was the highest on record.
Actual offenses are estimated to be much higher. According to a recent survey conducted by Defense (DOD), an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults occurred in 2012, ranging from rape to unwanted sexual touching.
“Discipline is the heart of the military culture, and trust is its soul,” Levin said. “The plague of sexual assault erodes both the heart and soul.”
Stemming that plague has long been problematic for the military, raising questions about the culture and whether sexual predators are slipping through enlistment screenings.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) questioned the efficiency of background checks, and the military leaders acknowledged there were gaps. Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, said if they found someone who “slips through the cracks,” they would be discharged.
“We need to work on it,” said Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the Army. “Left untreated, [it] will destroy the fabric of our force,” Odierno said.
According to the nonprofit Swan Service Women’s Action Network, 62 percent of victims experienced retaliation after officially reporting, and only 238 offenders were convicted in 2012.
“Victims tell us they don’t report because they fear retaliation, and they don’t believe their perpetrator will be prosecuted, and the numbers bear that out,” said Anu Bhagwati, director of the nonprofit network and a former Marine.