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Editorial: Continuing sexual abuse disgraces the U.S. military

This image released by the Arlington (Va.) County

This image released by the Arlington (Va.) County Police Department shows Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski. Krusinski, an Air Force officer who led the branch's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, has been charged with groping a woman in a parking lot. (May 7, 2013) Credit: AP

When the colonel leading the U.S. Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office is accused of groping a woman, you know the military has a serious problem. And despite the Defense Department's claim of zero tolerance, sexual assault in the ranks is on the rise. That's simply unacceptable.

The boys-will-be-boys culture that tolerates and even protects abusers must be changed. That will be difficult, but ensuring that those convicted of sexual assault are actually punished would be a good start. President Barack Obama promised action Tuesday. "If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period," he said.

As the chair of the House Armed Services subcommittee on personnel, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is in a strong position to drive reform. She must be relentless in pushing her colleagues to act.

The military has taken steps in recent years to encourage service members to report sexual abuse. But while the number of assaults reported rose to 3,374 in the 2012 fiscal year, from 3,192 in 2011, estimates of those unreported jumped as well, to 26,000 from 19,000.

The unfolding case of Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski will make many victims question whether it's worth risking their careers to report abuse. He ran the response unit until he was charged with sexual battery Monday for allegedly grabbing the breasts and buttocks of a stranger in a parking lot. If he's convicted, heads should roll among superiors who approved his appointment. And Congress should pass Gillibrand's legislation to take abuse reporting out of the chain of command and end the outrageous policy that allows commanders to overrule jury convictions.

Unchecked sexual abuse is an intolerable affront to justice and morality. The people who risk their lives protecting the nation deserve better.