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Rights Group Urges Zero-Tolerance Towards Sexual Misconduct in US Military - 2004-03-05

A leading international human rights group has called on the Pentagon to make major changes in the way the U.S. military handles cases of sexual assault and abuse against women. Officials from Amnesty International said the military needs to have a zero-tolerance attitude toward sex crimes within its ranks.

During a news conference in Washington, William Schulz of Amnesty International said there is a growing problem within the U.S. military involving sexual attacks against women soldiers.

"It is past time for the military to battle this scourge in its ranks," he said. "Military leaders must address the fact that women in uniform report shoddy criminal investigations, lack of access to counseling services and comprehensive medical care and even threats of retaliation. Too often the military treats domestic abuse as if it were merely a problem of personal relationships gone awry, to which the proper response is therapy, rather than treating it as crime gone rampant to which the proper response is punishment."

Mr. Schulz says incidents of sexual assaults inevitably rise during deployments such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. He commended Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for ordering an inquiry into sexual assaults within the U.S. military.

The Department of Defense announced this week it has established a toll-free telephone number for individuals who want to provide information to investigators. A Pentagon task force is currently probing allegations that more than 100 female soldiers have been sexually abused in Iraq and other places overseas.

Mr. Shultz' comments came as Amnesty International Friday launched a worldwide campaign to stop violence against women.

"War is hell as General Sherman famously said, but that is not true only for men on the battlefield," he said . "Women are raped for ethnic cleansing purposes, contract AIDS from U.N. peacekeepers and are trafficked across borders in war zones. Women are the hidden casualties of war and the violence they endure is no less tragic than those who are wounded on the battlefield."

Mr. Schulz says here in the United States, Congress should appropriate $10 million to create an advocate's office for sexual assault victims in the military, which would provide oversight, training and accountability to all branches of the armed services.