WASHINGTON (AP) — The sexual battery arrest of the Air Force officer who led the service's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit underscores how far the Defense Department has to go in addressing the plague of sexual crimes in the military, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Tuesday.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told a committee hearing that a Pentagon report to be released later Tuesday reportedly estimates that, on average, there are more than 70 sexual assaults involving military personnel every day.
Authorities in Arlington County, Va., said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was charged with groping a woman in a northern Virginia parking lot on Sunday. Krusinski was removed from his post in the sexual assault unit after the Air Force learned of his arrest. He started in the post in February
"While under our legal system everyone is innocent until proven guilty, this arrest speaks volumes about the status and effectiveness of (the Defense) department's efforts to address the plague of sexual assaults in the military," Levin said.
The Pentagon report says that the number of sexual assaults reported by members of the military rose from 3,192 to 3,374 in 2012, while the department estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted, based on anonymous surveys, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the report.
Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force's chief of staff, told the committee that he and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley were "appalled" by Krusinki's arrest. Although the case is being adjudicated by the Arlington County police, Welsh said the Air Force has requested jurisdiction.
A police report said that the 41-year-old Krusinski was drunk and grabbed a woman's breast and buttocks. The woman fought him off and called police, the report said.
The Arlington County Sheriff's office said Krusinski was released Sunday on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond. An arraignment is scheduled for Thursday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has spoken with Donley about the matter and "expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively," Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.
Two cases involving decisions by three-star generals to overturn guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases have outraged members of Congress and propelled a bipartisan push to change the military justice system to essentially strip commanding officers of their ability to reverse criminal convictions.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is holding up the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, tapped to serve as vice commander of the U.S. Space Command, until the Missouri Democrat gets more information about Helms' decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case.
Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, overturned the conviction against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy. Wilkerson had been found guilty last Nov. 2 of charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. The incident had involved a civilian employee.