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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced a series of new measures Wednesday designed to prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military.
"Our men and women put their lives on the line every day trying to keep America safe. And we have a moral duty to keep them safe from those who would attack their dignity and their honor," Panetta said at a Pentagon news briefing.
The new measures include:
• Providing confidential reporting options and victims counseling to military spouses and adult dependents.
• Require the counselors who serve as victim advocates on military installations to undergo training similar to the civilian sector.
• Add nearly $10 million over five years to improve training for criminal investigators and prosecutors who handle military sexual assault cases.
• Review current training programs for commanding officers and senior enlisted personnel to help create command climates that prevent sexual assault.
• Create and maintain a central Defense Department database for tracking reports of sexual assaults to improve transparency and identify trends.
Panetta's announcement came amid estimates that suggest about 19,000 troops are sexually assaulted each year, far more than are officially reported through military channels.
Military officials received 3,191 official reports of sexual assault last year, yet "because we assume that this is a very underreported crime, the estimate is that the actual number is closer to 19,000," Panetta said.
"These men and these women who are willing to fight and to die if necessary to protect and serve our country, they are entitled to much better protection," Panetta said.
"For a military force where the promise is to help each other in battle and to leave nobody behind, that promise must begin with honoring the dignity of every person on or off the battle field," he said.