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Lawmakers and White House Taking Steps on Military Sexual Assaults

Image: Lawmakers and White House Taking Steps on Military Sexual Assaults

By Lisa Barron   |   Friday, 10 May 2013 12:21 PM

First Lady Michelle Obama's office Thursday entered the debate over the growing military sexual assaults scandal now plaguing the Pentagon by joining in a meeting with sixteen members of Congress at the White House.

According to Politico, the lawmakers, most of them women, were there to discuss the issue with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, violence against women adviser Lynn Rosenthal, and Tina Tchen, the first lady's chief of staff.

Sen. Patty Murray told reporters afterwards that the administration is taking sexual assault "very seriously."

"We talked about all the different legislation that was out there; they were talking about some of the things that could be done administratively through the military," The Washington Democrat said.

Republican Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, along with Democratic Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts, the co-chairs of the House Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would limit the ability of military commanders to overturn jury convictions in sexual assault cases.

The legislation would also mandate that personnel convicted of committing or attempting to commit rape, sexual assault, or forcible sodomy be either dismissed from service or dishonorably discharged.

"The services have come to appreciate the extraordinary challenge of the persistence of this crime throughout the different services," Tsongas told Politico.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other military officials have reportedly said they would support the measure.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are due to begin marking up this year's defense authorization bill, which will also address the way the military handles sexual assault.

Rep. Buck McKeon, who chairs the House Armed Service Committee, told Politico that "the time for holding military commanders accountable is past due," adding that he expects "initiatives to combat sexual assault" will again be a significant part of this year’s legislation.

As for the first lady, she has been a strong advocate, along with Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, in pushing legislation and promoting more engagement from the private sector in programs to benefit military families and ensure the well-being of all military personnel.

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