Pentagon approach to sexual assault 'not working': Austin

"Clearly, what we've been doing hasn't been working. One assault is too many. The numbers of sexual assaults are still too high, and the confidence in our system is still too low," Secretary Austin told lawmakers on Thursday.

"I want to be sure that whatever changes to the U.C.M.J. (Uniform Code of Military Justice) that I recommend to the president and ultimately to this committee, that they are scoped to the problem we are trying to solve, have a clear way forward on implementation, and ultimately restore the confidence of the force in the system. You have my commitment to that, and also my commitment to working expeditiously as you consider legislative proposals," he added.

Austin said he is working to "resolve and improve" the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

Video Transcript

AUSTIN: As you know, my first directive as Secretary of Defense issued on my first full day in the office was to service leadership about sexual assault. I made it clear then, and I still believe, that we must not be afraid to try new approaches and to change our minds. So that we can truly and fully address the scourge of sexual assault in our force. And clearly what we've been doing hasn't been working, and one assault is too many. The numbers of sexual assaults are still too high and the confidence in our system is still too low.

The independent review commission that we established has provided me with an initial set of recommendations, starting around the issue of accountability. And this line of effort is focused on how these crimes are investigated and prosecuted. I've shared these recommendations with General Milley and the civilian military leaders, the civilian and military leaders of the service branches, and I'm carefully reviewing the feedback that they've provided me. There will be additional recommendations coming to us from the IRC on prevention, culture, and victim support, and I look forward to receiving them as well and making my full recommendation to the president later this month.

As I've said before, what we're doing is not working, and we need to fix it. And I want to be sure that whatever changes we make to the UCMJ, or whatever changes to the UCMJ that recommend to the president and ultimately to this committee, that they are scoped to the problem that we are trying to solve and have a clear way forward on implementation and ultimately restore the confidence of the force in the system. You have my commitment to that and my commitment to working expeditiously as you consider legislative proposals.

The commission that the president tasked me to stand up, and has stood up and provided me some initial recommendations and still owes me more recommendations, has been focused on the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment. And so those are the problems that we are trying to resolve and improve.