Thursday, May 9 2013, 12:49 PM MDT
Officials Meet to Discuss Sexual Assaults in the Military
By Dan Lothian, CNN White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON (CNN) About a dozen members of Congress were invited to meet at the White House Thursday with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and the first lady's chief of staff Tina Tchen to address the issue of sexual assault in the military, a senior administration official said.
The official did not provide names of the lawmakers invited to the bicameral bipartisan meeting, but CNN confirmed two of the guests were Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.
"As a former prosecutor, I know how important it is to have strong policies in place to combat sexual assault and I've worked hard to pass legislation to fight sexual assault in the military," Klobuchar said in a statement. "While we have made some progress in establishing new policies to address sexual assault in the ranks, the recent report underscores the critical need for continued action to prevent this crime and this meeting is one positive step forward for advancing solutions."
Klobuchar recently introduced a bill to crack down on sexual assault in the military.
The number of service members anonymously reporting sexual assault grew by more than 30% in the past two years, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday.
The Defense Department estimated that more than 26,000 troops experienced an episode of "unwanted sexual contact," a huge jump from the 19,300 figure in the 2010 report.
Meanwhile, Air Force officials faced questions this week about the branch chief for the service's program designed to prevent sexual assault, who was arrested and charged with sexual battery over the weekend.
President Obama on Tuesday said he had "no tolerance" for sexual assault in the military and vowed to go at the problem "hard."
"We have to do everything we can to root this out," the president said during a joint press conference with South Korea's new president.
"I don't want just more speeches or awareness programs or training but, ultimately, folks look the other way. If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable - prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged," he added. "Period. It's not acceptable."
The official said the meeting is following up on the president's pledge as a "first step."
CNN's Steve Almasy and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.