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Editorial: Don't keep sex offenders in U.S. military

When it comes to sexual assault, the U.S.

When it comes to sexual assault, the U.S. military's tolerance is intolerable. Photo Credit: Paul Tong

The U.S. military claims it has zero tolerance for sexual assault, but it allows one in three convicted sex offenders to remain in the ranks. That's a stunningly unacceptable level of tolerance.

Each branch of the service -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard -- has its own policy on how to decide whether a sex offender should be discharged. The Navy's is the best. It alone mandates an administrative separation proceeding after a conviction for rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy or the attempt to commit those crimes.

The other services should adopt the Navy policy. It doesn't require that every offender be discharged. It provides due process that allows for extenuating circumstances. But it requires that discharge decisions be made by an objective panel of officers rather than unilaterally by a commander, as is sometimes the case now in the other branches. The military owes that much to the women and men who are victimized sexually while serving their country.

An amendment Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) added to the 2013 defense budget authorization bill that passed the Senate Tuesday would direct the Pentagon to expand the Navy's policy to all branches of the armed forces. It isn't in the version of the bill the House passed in May but ought to be included in the final bill when the two are reconciled by a conference committee.

Perpetuating the current situation would be an outrage. In 2011, 3,192 sexual assaults were reported, according to the Department of Defense. Of the 191 service members convicted that year, 69 were allowed to remain in the military.

Sexual assaults are generally underreported, and that's exacerbated in the military. Of an estimated 19,000 that occurred in the armed forces in 2010, only 13.5 percent were reported, according to Service Women's Action Network, a civil rights organization led by women veterans. Another amendment in the Senate defense bill would force the military to improve how it handles reports of sexual assault.

When it comes to sexual assault, the U.S. military's tolerance is intolerable.