Gillibrand to attend ‘high-level’ White House meeting on sexual assault

Gillibrand, at an Armed Services hearing on sexual assault in the military. ()
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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand will be among the participants at a "high-level" White House meeting today focused on how to reduce sexual assault in the military.

The conversation will be led by Valerie Jarrett, one of the top advisers to President Obama, and Tina Tchen, the chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, according to a statement posted by Sen. Kay Hagan's office.

Hagan and Gillibrand are both members of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, which held a hearing this week in the wake of two new reports about a rise in sexual assaults in the military, and revelations that the Air Force officer in charge of preventing sexual assaults was arrested for groping a woman outside a Virginia bar over the weekend.

That arrest, said Gillibrand demonstrated "a failing in training and understanding of what sexual assault is and how corrosive and damaging it is to good order and discipline and how it's undermining the credibility of the greatest military force in the world."

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She said the military's efforts so far were "not good enough."

A new Pentagon report estimated there were 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact in the military last year, based on anonymous surveys, up from 19,000 two years ago. 

A separate report said only 3,300 cases of sexual assault were reported to the military.

Gillibrand's efforts have gotten support from editorial boards, including the New York Times and, this morning, the Los Angeles Times, and from Obama.

“The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this,” Obama told reporters on Tuesday when asked about the rise in sexual assaults.

The president, who is traveling to Austin, Texas today, won't be at the meeting. A White House spokesman didn't immediately respond to an email about whether Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, or other members of the Defense Department will be present.

UPDATE: According to a White House official, the meeting included: Liz Sherwood-Randall, White House Coordinator for Defense Policy; Kathryn Ruemmler, Counsel to the President; Miguel Rodriguez, director of the Office of Legislative Affairs; and Lynn Rosenthal, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.Also present were nine women senators, including all seven who serve on the Armed Services Committee, and seven members of the House.

UPDATE: A spokesman for Gillibrand sends the following statement from the senator: "I commend the White House for their leadership in bringing members of the House & Senate together to discuss ideas for how we can solve this crisis together. It was a very important and productive meeting where a number of good legislative ideas were discussed, many of which will have bipartisan support. I strongly believe that to change the paradigm of chronic non-reporting it is essential to move decision making away from the chain of command to trained legal prosecutors so that victims do not have to report to their bosses. It was clear to me the White House is dedicated to taking action that will reform the system to better protect our brave men and women."