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Army sexual misconduct riles Congress

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers say they’re outraged that for the second time this month a member of the armed forces assigned to help prevent sexual assaults in the military is under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct.

In the latest case, an Army sergeant first class at Fort Hood, Texas, is facing allegations involving three women, including that he may have arranged for one of them to have sex for money, according to a defense official. The official said it was not yet clear if the sergeant, who has not been named, forced the woman into what may have been prostitution.

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The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said the sergeant is also being investigated for allegedly sexually assaulting one of the other two women. The allegations involving the third woman were not known.

The case, along with another one involving an Air Force officer, highlight a problem that is drawing increased scrutiny in Congress and expressions of frustration from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Lawmakers said it was time for Hagel to get tough with the military brass.

‘‘This is sickening. Twice now, in a matter of as many weeks, we’ve seen the very people charged with protecting victims of sexual assault being charged as perpetrators,’’ Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, said. ‘‘It’s an astonishing reminder that the Pentagon has both a major problem on its hands and a tremendous amount of work to do to assure victims — who already only report a small fraction of sexual assaults — that they are changing the culture around these heinous crimes.

‘This is sickening’

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‘‘Secretary Hagel needs to act swiftly to re-examine sexual assault services across the department to ensure that these disturbing betrayals of trust are ended,’’ Murray said.

Hagel said he was directing all the services to retrain, recredential, and rescreen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters, his spokesman, George Little, said after Tuesday’s disclosure that the Army sergeant was accused of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault, and maltreatment of subordinates.

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The soldier was being investigated by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. No charges had been filed, but officials say they expect them fairly soon.

Little said Hagel was angry and disappointed at ‘‘these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply.’’ He said Hagel met with Army Secretary John McHugh earlier Tuesday and ordered him to ‘‘fully investigate this matter rapidly, to discover the extent of these allegations and to ensure that all of those who might be involved are dealt with appropriately.’’

The Fort Hood soldier had been assigned as an equal opportunity adviser and coordinator of a sexual harassment-assault prevention program at the Army’s Third Corps headquarters when the allegation arose, the Army said.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Howard P. ‘‘Buck’’ McKeon, Republican of California, said in a statement he was ‘‘outraged and disgusted by the reports out of Fort Hood.’’ McKeon, noting he has a granddaughter in the Army, said he saw ‘‘no meaningful distinction between complacency or complicity in the military’s latest failure to uphold their own standards of conduct. Nor do I see a distinction between the service member who orchestrated this offense and the chain of command that was either oblivious to or tolerant of criminal behavior. Both are accountable for this appalling breach of trust with their subordinates.’’

He called on Hagel to conduct a review of the military and its civilian leadership ‘‘to determine whether they continue to hold his trust and his confidence to lead in this area.’’

Just last week an Air Force officer who headed a sexual assault prevention office was himself arrested on charges of groping a woman in a Northern Virginia parking lot.

Senator Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement his panel was considering measures to counter the problem, including changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and will act on them next month.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said she intends to present new comprehensive legislation on Thursday to overhaul the military justice system by removing chain-of-command influence from prosecution of sex abuse crimes.

‘‘To say this report is disturbing would be a gross understatement,’’ Gillibrand said.

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