WASHINGTON, May 7, 2013 – President Barack Obama, commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces, said sexual assault is an outrage, and anyone within the military who commits the crime “is betraying the uniform that they’re wearing.”
The president, speaking today during a White House press conference, said the problem of sexual assault in the military is neither new nor easy to solve, but leaders “have to do everything we can to root this out.”
Obama noted he worked with former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on the issue, and spoke about it today with current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. He said the Defense Department is working to gather accurate reporting of assaults and is building “a system of accountability and transparency” up and down the chain of command.
The president added he told Hagel today that, “We’re gonna have to, you know, not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game to go at this thing hard.”
Obama offered a personal message to those in uniform who have experienced sexual assault.
“I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I’ve got their backs,” Obama said. “I will support them, and we’re not gonna tolerate this stuff. And there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted.”
Everyone in the military should understand “this is not who we are, this is not what the U.S. military is about, and it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day,” Obama said.
The president said he has no tolerance for sexual assault, and he expects consequences for those who commit the crime.
“I don’t want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training — but ultimately folks look the other way,” he said. “[When] we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable; prosecuted, stripped out of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It’s not acceptable.”