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Pentagon can stop sexual abuse

Sen. Patty Murray is calling on the Department of Defense to take “a comprehensive, top-down approach to changing the culture” after a new study on sexual assault and harassment in the military.

The study, conducted by researchers at the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, reported that one in seven female veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq report being victims of sexual assault or harassment.

The findings are based on information collected from 125,000 military personnel who received Veterans Affairs care from October 2001 to October 2007.

“When brave women chose to sacrifice for our country they should be protected. Yet as this study reveals, far too many women are returning home from service with the devastating wounds of Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD. It’s simply unacceptable,” Murray said.

She’s right on both counts — no one should stand for the mistreatment of women serving our country, and the cultural change required to these crimes has to start at the top.

Racism hasn’t been eliminated from the U.S. military, but the armed services have led the way toward racial equality, achieving integration far ahead of most institutions.

That was accomplished against deeply ingrained cultural barriers and outright bigotry. But the military, with its hierarchic structure, is particularly suited to changing behavior from the top down.

If this nauseating mistreatment of our women in uniform isn’t fixed, blame a failure of will at the top. Decent treatment of women in the military is a completely achievable objective.