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Army Disqualifies Hundreds After Sexual Assault Probe

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The Army has dismissed 588 service members from “positions of trust” like counselors and recruiters, after a Pentagon-ordered review revealed past infractions including sexual assault, child molestation, and drunk driving.

The number of soldiers disqualified from such positions is 10 times higher than what the Army originally reported when the review was first ordered last summer, USA Today reports. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the review after a Pentagon study revealed that unwanted sexual contact in the military had risen 35 percent between 2010 and 2012. The Army did not reveal how many of the 588 disqualified soldiers have been reassigned to other duties or dismissed from service.

“We will continue working to better ensure we select the very best people for these posts, and that the chain of command knows what is expected of them, and how important this work is to the Army,” Army spokesman Col. David Patterson told USA Today in a statement.

Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri have led the legislative charge against sexual assault in the military, though each has taken a different tack toward addressing what military brass have deemed a top priority.

Gillibrand said the number of soldiers disqualified indicated the need for a complete overhaul of the way sexual assault cases are reported and prosecuted in the military.

“These continued reports paint a very clear picture of why nine out of 10 sexual assault victims don’t report their attack and why the military needs a reformed, independent and transparent system of justice,” she told the newspaper. Her proposal would take sexual assault cases out of the chain of command and use military prosecutors to handle them instead. McCaskill’s proposal includes commanders in the process but prevents them from overturning convictions.

“The Army’s review of soldiers responsible for combating sexual assault was an important step in our effort to curb sexual assaults in the military,” McCaskill said.

Only 55 soldiers were disqualified after an initial review last summer, but after combing through 20,000 records, the Army revised that number to 588. After parallel reviews, five service members were disqualified from similar “positions of trust” in the Navy, and none from the Air Force or Marines.

[USA Today]

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Write to Charlotte Alter at charlotte.alter@time.com