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Obama: 'No tolerance' for military sexual assault

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he has “no tolerance” for sexual assault in the military, comments made in the wake of a new Pentagon report showing the instances of such crimes have spiked since 2010. 

The Pentagon released a report showing a dramatic increase in the claims of sexual assault in the military. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., shares her reaction.

The president said he had spoken today with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to urge him to “exponentially step up” efforts to identify suspects in assaults, and aggressively prosecute those cases. 

“The bottom line is: I have no tolerance for this,” Obama said at a press conference following his meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. 

‘I expect consequences,” Obama added. “So I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got to be held accountable – prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

Related: Military sees sharp increase in sex assault cases

The Pentagon released startling new statistics on Tuesday showing that sexual assaults in the military rose by 35 percent since 2010. The troubling report was compounded by news that an Air Force officer in charge of the branch’s sexual assault prevention program was arrested and charged with sexual assault this past weekend. 

“For those who are in uniform who’ve experience sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I’ve got their backs,” the president said. “I will support them. And we’re not going to tolerate this stuff, and there will be accountability.”

The new report has already prompted new questions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have pointedly asked military leaders how such a situation was allowed to escalate. 

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

President Barack Obama faces a news conference in the East Room of the White House, May 7, 2013.

The underlying purpose, though, of today’s visit by Park was to reaffirm an alliance between the U.S. and South Korea in the wake of increased saber-rattling by the North Korean regime and its nuclear program. North Korea removed two ballistic missiles from launch pads and downgraded their military’s readiness status following weeks of public warnings about its ability to respond to threats by the U.S. or South Korea. 

Obama warned that such provocative action would lead to a “dead end” for the North Korean regime. But he told the nation’s young leader, Kim Jong-Un, that it was not yet too late to reverse course. 

“President Park and myself very much share the view that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent capability – that we’re not going to reward provocative behavior,” Obama said. “But we remain open to the prospect of North Korea taking a peaceful path of de-nuclearization, abiding by international commitments, rejoining the international community and seeing a gradual progression in which both security and prosperity for the people of North Korea can be achieved.”

 

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