WASHINGTON (June 4, 2013) -- Military leaders look forward to working with Congress to get the tools needed to combat the scourge of sexual assault in the ranks, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said sexual assault is a crime "that demands accountability and consequences. It betrays the very trust on which our profession is founded."

Military officials are working diligently to change the climate in the services that allows this crime, the chairman said.

Lasting change means changing behaviors, Dempsey said.

"We're taking a comprehensive approach that focuses on prevention, victim advocacy, investigation accountability and assessment, all as part of our solemn obligation to safeguard the health of the force," he said.

The military must do more to safeguard victims while preserving the rights of those accused, the chairman acknowledged.

"We remain open to every idea and option to accelerate meaningful institutional change," he said.

Congress has proposed legislation to address the problem. Dempsey said the military looks forward to working with Congress on the issue. "I've been attentive to every piece of legislation," he said. "There are many reasonable recommendations on the table."

In a letter to the committee, Dempsey said he sees merit in initiatives to prohibit those convicted of sexual assault from joining the military and to oblige administrative discharge for those convicted of sexual assault. He also said he sees merit in the proposal to require commanders to report sexual offenses promptly to the next higher commander, and to increase transparency and accountability of commanders' actions and decisions.

A congressionally mandated nine-member panel is taking up these and other initiatives.

The panel can look at the problem, assess the second- and third-order effects of any changes and make its recommendations. "We need the panel to deliberate and to deliver on a more accelerated timeline," Dempsey said. Meanwhile, he added, the military will continue moving full speed ahead on the issue.

"We will be actively implementing my strategic direction on prevention (of) sexual assault and the department's new sexual assault prevention and response plan," he said.

In a force stand-down throughout the Defense Department, which must be completed by July 1, Dempsey said, the services will conduct command climate surveys and conduct refresher training for response coordinators and victim advocates. The services seek to improve victim counsel and treatment and more, he added.

Dempsey asked the senators to be very careful before changing the responsibilities of commanders under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Commanders have a key role to play in preventing and punishing sexual assault, and that shouldn't be weakened, he said.

Page last updated Thu June 6th, 2013 at 14:11