WASHINGTON -- U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday that the Pentagon is preparing new initiatives to try to curb sexual assaults in the military -- a problem he believes could be six times greater than reported.
Panetta said 3,191 sex assault cases were reported in the military last year, but because so few victims come forward, he believes the real number is closer to 19,000 assaults. In 2010, 3,158 cases were reported.
"It is an affront to the basic American values we defend and it is a stain on the good honor of the great majority of our troops and our families," said Panetta during a press conference at the Pentagon.
“These women and these men who are willing to fight and die to protect and serve our country – they deserve better protection. Their families and dependents also sacrifice and serve. And so for this reason, we must spare no effort to protect them against this heinous crime. … One sexual assault is one too many.”
Saying he wanted to speak directly to the victims of sexual assault in the Defense Department, Panetta said somberly: "I deeply regret that such crimes occur in the U.S. military ... I'm committed to providing you the support and resources you need and to taking whatever steps are necessary to keep what happened to you from happening to others."