Female senators lead charge against military sexual assault


(CBS News) The Pentagon's top brass will be in the hot seat Tuesday, facing lawmakers who are furious about the rise in sexual assaults in the military.

The questions come after a month of bad news from the military after a series of incidents revealed a sexual assault problem that appeared out of control. And in the past couple of weeks, the pressure has only increased, especially from one vocal group of U.S. senators.

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In Congress, women are leading the charge, CBS News' Jan Crawford reported on "CBS This Morning." Democrats and Republicans are focused on sexual assaults in the military. On the Senate Armed Services Committee, their voices are louder than ever. Women hold a record seven seats, almost a third of the committee's members.

Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., said, "We are demanding that change take place. ... This is a crime and we're going to address it as a crime, and the perpetrators are going to be kicked out of the military."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said recently, "Clearly we have a strategy in place that is not working."

Their push comes as sexual abuse incidents are increasing with an estimated 26,000 last year.

A string of recent cases demonstrates the problems. In Virginia, an Air Force officer responsible for sexual assault prevention was charged with groping a woman. In Texas, a Fort Hood Army sergeant -- also in charge of sexual abuse prevention -- is under investigation for assault and forced prostitution. And two cases at the nation's military academies: at West Point, a sergeant on staff is accused of secretly videotaping female cadets; in Annapolis, Md., three midshipmen are accused of raping a classmate.

Congress is considering a number of options, among them a proposal to prevent military sexual assault verdicts from being overturned by high-ranking officers.

But on Monday, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee urged caution. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said, "While we should not wait to provide additional tools that could make a difference immediately, we've got to be deliberate in making fundamental changes."

Also urging caution and voicing some opposition are military leaders, Crawford added on "CTM." "They're indicating that they will oppose any legislation that would give prosecutors -- not military commanders -- authority over these investigations and trials."

Watch Jan Crawford's full report above.