Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, is pictured in this undated handout photo released May 6, 2013 by the Arlington County Police Department. Photo: Reuters
Washington: The US Air Force's top officer for sexual-assault prevention has been arrested on charges of sexual battery, prompting his removal from the post, as the Pentagon reported as many as 26,000 attacks in the military last year.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, was arrested on May 5 in the Washington suburb of Arlington, Virginia, where he allegedly "approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks," according to an Arlington County police report. Efforts to locate Mr Krusinski for comment weren't successful.
The arrest provides "dramatic evidence of the need for the Department of Defence to act swiftly and decisively to address the plague of sexual assaults in the military", Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said on Tuesday at a hearing in Washington.
The Defence Department released its annual report on sexual assaults, an event that each year prompts criticism from lawmakers and victims' advocacy groups and pledges by the Pentagon to do better.
The study showed 3374 reported cases of assault in 2012, a 5.7 percent increase from the previous year.
President Barack Obama, asked about the new numbers during a news conference on Tuesday, angrily condemned the sexual assault problem in the military.
‘‘The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this,’’ he said. ‘‘If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonourably discharged – period.’’
Such reported assaults are dwarfed by the number of cases that go unreported. Victims have said they're afraid of coming forward, partly because they feared a risk to their career.
The Pentagon has previously estimated 19,000 such incidents occur each year in the military, based on anonymous surveys of the active-duty force. Tuesday's report estimates that as many as 26,000 assaults occurred last year, an average of 71 incidents per day.
Responding to Mr Krusinski's arrest, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel "expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasised that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively", George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement.
Mr Hagel, who discussed the arrest on Monday with Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, will soon announce the "next steps in our ongoing effort to combat this vile crime", Mr Little said.
Mr Krusinski, who had served as chief of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch since February, was removed from the job pending an investigation, according to an Air Force statement. He was released after posting a $US5000 bond, according to Dustin Sternbeck, an Arlington County police spokesman.
"It is unacceptable that this occurs anywhere at any time in our Air Force and we will not quit working on this problem," General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said today at Levin's hearing.
Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a victim-support group, said in a statement that Mr Krusinski's arrest "is one more example on a long list of how fundamentally broken the military justice system and culture are."
The Air Force is still reeling from a scandal in which at least five military instructors were convicted of sexual assaults or unprofessional relationships with trainees or students at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
An investigation of the Lackland case identified 23 alleged offenders and 48 alleged victims.
Bloomberg, New York Times