'We believe you' - Panel on Fort Hood sexual assaults

As a result, over a dozen commanders have been suspended or relieved and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said he expects to make widespread changes in light of the panel's finding.

The panel of five experts was created in July after a series of crimes including the murder of Vanessa Guillen, a 20-year-old soldier at the base whose remains were found in June.

Guillen had disappeared from the base months earlier. Her family said she had been sexually harassed before her disappearance in April, but Army officials say no sexual harassment reports were filed.

The panel, which said it interviewed over 500 women at Fort Hood, found that only about half of "credible accounts" of sexual assault and harassment at the base were ever reported to commanders.

The reason was a lack of confidence among the women that any action would ever be taken, the panel said, adding that most were also fearful of retribution against them.

"One of the things that these soldiers, many of them, needed, was to be believed," said committee member Carrie Ricci. "And that was what we did. We listened. So if any of them see this, I want them to know, we believe you."

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command announced on July 1 that one military suspect in Guillen's case had taken his own life in Killeen, Texas, and a civilian suspect had been arrested.

Video Transcript

RYAN MCCARTHY: The murder of specialist Vanessa Guillen shocked our conscience-- conscience and brought attention to deeper problems. The initial investigation into Vanessa's death, coupled with high numbers of crimes and deaths at Fort Hood, has revealed a series of missteps and multiple failures in our system and within our leadership.

For that reason, on July 30, I directed the Undersecretary of the Army Mr. James McPherson to establish an independent review committee to review the culture at Fort Hood. Over the course of 103 days, the panel surveyed 31,612 soldiers, interviewed 647 soldiers, and met with civic and elected leaders, local law enforcement leaders, and the local district attorneys.

This report, without a doubt, what caused the army to change our culture. I have decided to accept all these findings in whole. In response, we have created the People First Task Force to map out a plan to tackle them. While the independent review focused on the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, the findings contained in the committee's report impact the entire army of more than one million soldiers, 247,000 civilians, and their families.

QUETA RODRIGUEZ: Of the 503 women that we interviewed, we discovered 93 credible accounts of sexual assault. Of those, only 59 were reported. And we also found 135-- I'm sorry, 217 unreported accounts of sexual harassment. So that's a really significant number. Of those, just over half were reported.

And so what we discovered during the course of those interviews is that, due to the lack of confidence in the system, that lack of confidence absolutely affected-- affects the reporting of those incidents.

CARRIE RICCI: I just want to add that one of the things that the soldiers at Fort Hood, many of them needed, was to be believed. And that was what we did. We listened. And so if any of them see this, I want to know we believe you. And that was a really-- that's a really important takeaway-- was to believe.