WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s top defense leaders were summoned to the White House on Thursday to talk about the military’s escalating sexual assault crisis as the Pentagon’s top general said women in uniform were losing confidence that the problem will be solved.
President Barack Obama planned to meet Thursday afternoon with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the civilian and military leaders of each service, and the military’s senior enlisted advisers to discuss the issue, the Pentagon announced.
Allegations of sexual assault in the military have triggered outrage from local commanders to Capitol Hill and the Oval Office. Yet there seem to be few clear solutions beyond improved training and possible adjustments in how the military prosecutes such crimes. Changing the culture of a male-dominated, change-resistant military that for years has tolerated sexism and sexist behavior is proving to be a challenging task.
“We’re losing the confidence of the women who serve that we can solve this problem,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said Wednesday.
“That’s a crisis,” Dempsey said in remarks during a flight from Europe to Washington that were reported by the American Forces Press Service, which is the Pentagon’s internal news agency.
Dempsey suggested that a deepening of the sexual assault problem may be linked to the strains of war.
“I tasked those around me to help me understand what a decade-plus of conflict may have done to the force,” he said. “Instinctively, I knew it had to have some effect.”
Dempsey added: “This is not to make excuses. We should be better than this. In fact, we have to be better than this.”
The Pentagon had scheduled a briefing for journalists Thursday with Hagel and Dempsey, but after the White House meeting was announced, they said the Pentagon press conference was being postponed until Friday.