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May 8, 2013—There were 3,374 reported sexual assaults, ranging from abusive sexual contact to rape, in the Active Duty ranks of the US military in Fiscal 2012, up 5.7 percent from the 3,192 reported cases in the previous fiscal year, according to the Pentagon's Fiscal 2012 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, released on Tuesday.

The total number of unreported cases of sexual crimes among Active Duty service members last fiscal year is estimated at approximately 26,000, states the report. (Pentagon release on report)

The increase in the reported incidents comes despite continued efforts by senior defense leaders to eradicate the problem of sexual assaults.

"This is a defining time for our entire military community,” said Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, on Tuesday on the occasion of the report's release. "Our troops take care of each other on the battlefield better than any military in the world, and now we must extend that same ethos of care to combating sexual assault," he added.

During Tuesday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Air Force's posture, sexual assault emerged as one of the main topics of discussion.

SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said DOD must "act swiftly and decisively to address the plague of sexual assaults in the military."

The report's release came on the heels of another high-profile sexual abuse scandal in the Air Force. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch at the Pentagon, was arrested on May 5 on charges of sexual battery in Arlington, Va., for allegedly grabbing the breasts and buttocks of a woman while drunk.

Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told SASC members both he and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley "were appalled" at the allegations.

"As we have both said over and over and over again, sexual assault prevention and response efforts are critically important to us," he said during the May 7 hearing. "It is unacceptable that this occurs anywhere, at any time, in our Air Force, and we will not quit working this problem."

Briefing reporters in the Pentagon on the sexual assault report on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel addressed the Krusinski case, saying, "We're all outraged and disgusted over these very troubling allegations." He added, "We're particularly disappointed because this alleged incident occurred [by someone] here at the headquarters."

Hagel said he spoke to Donley about the case on Monday evening. (Hagel-Patton transcript)

In addition to Krusinski's case, the Air Force has found itself in several high-profile sexual misconduct-related controversies in the last few years.

More than 30 military training instructors at basic military training at JBSA-Lackland, Tex., have been charged with some form of sexual misconduct.

In late February, 3rd Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the conviction of the former 31st Fighter Wing inspector general at Aviano AB, Italy, spurring a barrage of criticism from some lawmakers on whether the convening authority in a court martial wields too much power.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) previously introduced legislation that would prevent military commanders from dismissing jury convictions against sex offenders. She also recently placed a hold on the nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms to be vice commander of Air Force Space Command—a lateral move for the three-star general, though one that still requires Senate approval.

McCaskill's spokesman Drew Pusateri told the Daily Report on Tuesday that the hold would remain in place until the senator receives additional information on Helms' decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case last year.

During Tuesday's SASC hearing, Welsh said in the case in which Helms served as the convening authority, a jury found the "subject" innocent of one sexual assault charge and guilty of another.

"General Helms, as a convening authority and following due process of the law as written, reviewed the case, determined that, in her view, it did not meet the burden of reasonable doubt [based on] the evidence presented, and she reversed the guilty decision on the second count of sexual assault," said Welsh.

"She then took the other three charges, the minor charges [for which the subject] had also been found guilty in court, and she punished the subject under non-judicial punishment for those offenses. She also punished the subject [on the sexual assault charge] under non-judicial punishment," he said.

Welsh emphasized that cases in which a convening authority overturns a conviction are extremely rare: only two cases out of 2,500 over the last five years.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) argued during the SASC hearing that if commanders are rarely using the authority it shouldn't make a difference if it is taken away, as she advocates.

"If you want to increase the number of reported cases . . . you have to remove it from the chain of command," she said in an exchange with Welsh.

Welsh said he and Donley "very clearly believe it's time" to review and adjust Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which gives the convening authority the right to overturn a jury conviction.

Welsh said when the article was created, the military did not have as robust of an appeals process in the military courts as it does today.

However, he said the real problem for why victims may not come forward to report sexual crimes may be clouded by the emotions surrounding this issue.

"The things that cause people to not report . . . primarily are really not chain of command," he said. "It's, 'I don't want my family to know. I don't want my spouse to know or my boyfriend or girlfriend to know. I'm embarrassed that I'm in this situation.' It's the self-blame that comes with the crime. That is overridingly on surveys over the years the reasons that most victims don't report."