Less than a week after raising the issue with the Commanding General at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill questioned top officials from the Pentagon about the military's response to instances of sexual assault. In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCaskill questioned Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen about recent allegations and noted that the military has a lot of work to do to improve response to sexual assaults.
"We have a real serious problem...I just think that we have got to look at this problem in a systemic way, in terms of do these women have a safe place they can go? Are we gathering the evidence quickly? Do we have experts available in terms of prosecuting these cases? If someone rapes a woman and the evidence is there and that person doesn't end up in prison, then we have failed," McCaskill said in today's hearing.
McCaskill sent a letter earlier this week to Major General David Quantock, the Commanding General at Fort Leonard Wood, and subsequently met privately with him in her Washington office following a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article that exposed serious problems with sexual assaults at the Fort. MG Quantock has assured McCaskill that the base is taking the allegations seriously and has brought in a special prosecutor to handle sexual assault cases.
As a former prosecutor, McCaskill suggested today to Secretary Gates that the military look to the expertise available from the civilian sector to help train investigators, prosecutors, victim advocates, and medical personnel in the military on the best practices for prevention and response to sexual assault. McCaskill will be continuing to work with Quantock on the problems at Fort Leonard Wood and pursue the DoD-wide issue with sexual assaults further as part of her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee.