reported by servicewomen in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere
WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 — The United States military is facing the gravest accusations of sexual misconduct in years, with dozens of servicewomen in the Persian Gulf area and elsewhere saying they were sexually assaulted or raped by fellow troops, lawmakers and victims advocates said on Wednesday.
There have been 112 reports of sexual misconduct over roughly the past 18 months in the Central Command area of operations, which includes Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, military officials said on Wednesday.
The Army has reported 86 incidents, the Navy 12, the Air Force 8 and the Marine Corps 6.
Military officials said that the bulk of the charges were being investigated and that some had already resulted in disciplinary actions, but they could not provide specifics. They said a small number of the reports had turned out to be unfounded.
In addition, about two dozen women at Sheppard Air Force Base, a large training facility in Texas, have reported to a local rape-crisis center that they were assaulted in 2002. The Air Force Academy in Colorado is still reeling from the disclosure last year of more than 50 reported assaults or rapes over the last decade.
The latest accusations are the most extensive set of sexual misconduct charges since the Navy's Tailhook incident of 1991 and the Army's drill sergeant scandal about five years later. In response, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this month ordered a senior-level inquiry into the reported sexual assaults in Iraq and Kuwait, and how the armed services treats victims of sexual attacks. The Army and Air Force have opened similar investigations.
The issue came to a boil at a contentious hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, where Senate Democrats and Republicans sharply questioned the Pentagon's top personnel official and four four-star officers for what the lawmakers said were lapses in the military's ability to protect servicewomen from sexual assaults, to provide medical care and counseling to victims of attacks and to punish violators.
Lawmakers said they were particularly appalled by reports that women serving in roles from military police to helicopter pilots had been assaulted by male colleagues in remote combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan, where immediate medical treatment and a sense of justice seemed to be lacking.
"No war comes without cost, but the cost should be born out of conflict with the enemy, and not because of egregious violations by some of our own troops," said Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican on the Armed Services personnel subcommittee.
Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, voiced concern that senior Pentagon leaders had not sufficiently addressed the problem. "I don't get a sense of outrage by military leadership," Mr. Nelson said.
The Pentagon's personnel chief, David S. C. Chu, assured the lawmakers that the Defense Department was treating the issue seriously and that "all policies are on the table" as part of the 90-day review, whose findings and recommendations are due by April 30.
He said the immediate priority would be to provide better care to assault victims.
In an effort to blunt criticism that the defense officials were not doing enough to address the issue, the Pentagon moved up the release of a Congressionally mandated survey conducted in 2002 — a period before most of the latest rash of complaints occurred — that found that the number of servicewomen who said they had been sexually assaulted had declined to 3 percent from 6 percent in 1995, when the last survey was taken.
But some senators questioned the survey's methodology and timing. "Why in the world did it take two years to take a survey?" asked Senator John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who heads the full committee, noting that politicians routinely ordered overnight polls for their campaigns.
The latest sexual assault scandals have burst into full public view largely because of a recent series of investigative articles by The Denver Post and growing pressure from lawmakers, especially from women in Congress like Senator Collins and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas.
But the numbers of reported assaults revealed on Wednesday exceeded the scope of what the Post articles had described. Christine Hansen, executive director of The Miles Foundation, a victims' advocacy group in Newtown, Conn., told senators at the hearing that it had received reports of 68 cases of sexual assault, mainly from servicewomen in Iraq and Kuwait.
The women's complaints ranged from the lack of emergency medical care and rape kits, to incomplete criminal investigations into their reports to retaliation by peers for reporting an assault, she said.
"We may just be beginning to see what the problem is," Ms. Hansen said in a telephone interview after the hearing.
The reported assaults have produced action and reviews in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.
At a budget hearing before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee said in response to a question that many sexual assaults went unreported. "We don't want that," Mr. Brownlee said. "We want an environment where these young women will feel free to report."
Senior officials from all the services said they were reviewing and, in some cases, increasing their training. Gen. William L. Nyland, the assistant Marine Corps commandant, told senators that beginning March 1, all newly enlisted marines will receive sexual-assault awareness and prevention training. Marine officers already receive the instruction.
refusing to kill