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West Point case adds to military sex abuse scandals

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

ALBANY, N.Y. — Charges that an Army sergeant secretly photographed and videotaped women at West Point are part of a military-wide pattern of sexual misconduct, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said on Thursday.

The military has been rocked by a series of arrests and incidents of sexual misconduct. But the news from the venerable U.S. Military Academy — where the motto is “Duty. Honor. Country.” — could be particularly embarrassing. The Army said on Wednesday that a sergeant at West Point had been charged with secretly photographing and videotaping at least a dozen women at the academy, including in a bathroom.

The allegation surfaces the same month the Pentagon released a report estimating that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year and that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs.

Gillibrand said the West Point charges illustrate a culture and reporting system that allows predators to remain in service. Service members afraid of retaliation or jeopardizing their careers often are reluctant to bring charges of sexual misconduct to their superiors, she said.

“This case is another case in a long line of incidents where we have clear evidence that the military did not understand how to handle this problem of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct,” Gillibrand told The Associated Press. “Obviously, you're not having a level of accountability that is going to prevent these incidents and send a clear message that this criminal behavior is unacceptable.”

Gillibrand, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is pushing for a system in which sexual assault is reported outside the chain of command, directly to a military prosecutor.

West Point was named along with military officials in a lawsuit filed in April 2012 seeking the court's help in permanently changing attitudes about sexual assault at military academies. The lawsuit claims the nation's military academies “systemically and repeatedly ignore rampant sexual harassment.” The suit said a 20-year-old Pennsylvania woman resigned from West Point when she became suicidal after her rape by a roommate's boyfriend, who remained in her unit after she reported she was attacked.

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