By Chris Lawrence
(CNN) — The U.S. Army has suspended 55 soldiers from their duties as sexual assault counselors, recruiters and drill instructors after a review turned up violations ranging from alcohol-related offenses to sexual assault and child abuse, an Army official said Friday.
The soldiers were identified as part of a review of the records of sexual assault counselors and recruiters ordered by U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel after a Pentagon report released in May found that more than 26,000 troops experienced an episode of “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012, a huge jump from the 19,200 figure in a 2010 report.
The 55 soldiers who were identified in the ongoing review “are no longer assigned to those positions of trust and responsibility,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. The official was not authorized to release details, citing the ongoing review.
There has been no official disposition in most of the 55 cases, the official said.
The Defense Department has stepped up efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, establishing a special victims unit to handle cases, working to improve tracking of reports and speeding transfers for troops who report a sexual assault by a member of their unit.
Military officials worry that many victims don’t come forward because they are frightened of retaliation.
Hagel said victims need to be made confident they can rely on the military’s justice system and that commanders will be held responsible.
The Army has confirmed it is reviewing the records of 20,000 recruiters, sex assault and drill instructors, and that it is on track to finish the review by October 1.
“We only want the very best to be in these positions of special trust. The steps we are taking are in keeping with our commitment to maintaining the special bonds of trust and confidence between the leader and his or her soldiers,” Army spokesman George Wright said.
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