US & Canada

Obama warns on US military sexual assaults

Silhouette of US army soldiers in combat gear
Image caption Military leaders will be forced to change the culture within their ranks, officials say

President Barack Obama has said sexual harassment and assault will not be tolerated in the US military.

His spoke as figures showed reported sexual assaults in the US military rose from 3,192 to 3,374 in 2012.

But as many attacks go unreported, officials estimate the total number of sexual assaults stands at 26,000, up from 19,000 last year.

It comes after the officer tasked with stopping sexual crimes in the US Air Force was charged with sexual battery.

Lt Col Jeff Krusinski, 41, was arrested on Sunday accused of grabbing a woman's breasts and buttocks in a car park in Virginia, police said.

The Air Force has been criticised after a slew of sexual assault cases at its main training centre in Texas.

'Not acceptable'

"If we find out that somebody is engaging in that stuff they have got to be held accountable, court martialled, fired, dishonorably discharged. It is not acceptable. Period," Mr Obama said at the White House on Tuesday.

He said he had spoken directly to Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday about the need to "exponentially step up our game" in addressing the matter.

The Pentagon study on sexual harassment and assaults, released on Tuesday, was based on anonymous surveys.

It will be followed by a series of measures to tackle abuse, the news agency AP reported.

Government officials want to make officers more accountable for what happens under their command, it said.

"Sexual assault is a crime that is incompatible with military service and has no place in this department," said the US defence secretary.

"The DoD needs to be a national leader in combating sexual assault and we will establish an environment of dignity and respect, where sexual assault is not tolerated, condoned, or ignored."

Air Force officials told US media that Lt Col Krusinski had been removed from his post following reports of the arrest.

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, said the case showed how far the defence department still had to go in addressing the problem of sexual crimes in the military.

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