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Pentagon to set up task force to investigate military sexual assault at Sen. McSally’s request

The Arizona senator recently revealed that she was raped while in the Air Force.

The Pentagon is forming a sexual assault task force at the request of Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ). CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The Pentagon is forming a sexual assault task force at the request of Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ). CREDIT: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Pentagon has agreed to form a task force to investigate sexual assault in the military, Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) said Wednesday.

McSally, who recently revealed that she was raped by a superior officer while serving in the Air Force, requested in a letter earlier this week that the Department of Defense institute a task force that would “begin meeting immediately with a goal of having recommendations ready” to mark up the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

“Thousands of sexual assaults continue to be reported each year, yet very few are held accountable at trial,” McSally said in the letter to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan. “Although much effort has been put towards prevention and response to military sexual assault, these numbers are just intolerable.”

McSally said in a statement Wednesday that Shanahan responded quickly after she sent her letter and agreed to form the task force.

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“My goal, and the goal of the Department of Defense, is to eliminate sexual assault and sexual harassment in the United States military,” Shanahan said in a release Wednesday. “DoD leadership is committed to fixing this and I look forward to working with Senator McSally and our taskforce to find solutions that will eliminate this issue from our ranks.”

The task force will include McSally herself, along with military and civilian experts. She noted at a recent hearing that there are 6,769 sexual assaults reported across the military in 2017, in addition to “likely thousands of others that were not reported.”

McSally was appointed in January to fill the Senate seat once held by late Sen. John McCain, after she lost a close election in November against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema for a different Senate vacancy.

Sexual assault is pervasive in the military. A 2013 survey estimated that the number could be as high as 26,000 per year, and according to a another study published the same year in Medscape, more than 30 percent of women in the armed services have been sexually assaulted and 80 percent have been sexually harassed.

Additionally, many service members face repercussions for reporting abuse, both professional and social. As ThinkProgress reported in 2016, thousands of military sexual assault survivors are denied health care after reporting assault because of a practice of putting “PD” — or “personality disorder” — on their records without a standard diagnosis.

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“Many steps have been taken by the military over the last years and this body — over 100 legislative actions,” McSally said at a recent hearing. “But it’s not enough.”