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Lawmakers demand military leaders curb sex assaults

U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) (R) walks off stage with fellow female members of the U.S. Senate after addressing the second session o
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) (R) walks off stage with fellow female members of the U.S. Senate after addressing the second session o

By David Alexander

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senators alarmed by a jump in sex crimes in the U.S. military called on Wednesday for a cultural overhaul of the Air Force and a lawmaker exposed a web page used by Marines that she said depicted a "culture of misogyny and sexual harassment."

"I'm just fed up with this sexual assault stuff," Senator Barbara Mikulski told a hearing with top Air Force leaders a day after the Pentagon released its 2012 annual report on sexual assault in the military, which showed a 37 percent jump in estimated sex crimes to 26,000.

The release came at an embarrassing time for the Air Force, which had just removed the head of its sexual assault prevention office after he was charged with groping a woman while drunk in a parking lot near the Pentagon.

"I've been working with you for 25 years and it didn't seem to do one damn bit of good," Mikulski told the Air Force civilian and military leaders, referring to a long history of Air Force sex assault scandals. "I'm pretty frustrated. I want change. I want action."

"What are we going to do about the culture?" asked Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.

General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told Mikulski, "No one is more frustrated than I am" over the military's continuing problem with sexual assault.

"I need to do more. The Air Force needs to do more. And every single victim is just a gut-wrenching reminder of that," he said.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley called sexual assault "a cancer" for the military but acknowledged that while the services had done a lot to try to address the problem, "We haven't found the game-changers yet."

As the Senate debated culture change in the Air Force, Representative Jackie Speier exposed a Facebook page frequented by Marines that she said raised concerns about the corps.

"I am confident that if you reviewed the contents of this web page you would also be horrified by the culture of misogyny and sexual harassment depicted on the website," Speier said in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos.

"The 'humor' expressed on this page and similar pages ... contribute to a culture that permits and seems to encourage sexual assault and abuse," she said.

The Facebook page, which appeared to have been taken down sometime Wednesday, showed photos of women "in various forms of nudity," said Speier, who distributed copies of some photos from the site.

Some of the photos and captions suggested female Marines only advanced in their careers by performing sexual favors. Others showed women who had been abused, with captions suggesting they belonged in the kitchen.

The Marine Corps issued a statement warning that Marines were responsible for what they publish on social networking sites and could be punished for violations of military law.

"There is no tolerance for discriminatory comments. It goes against good order and discipline," the statement said. "Marines must use their best judgment at all times and avoid inappropriate behavior that could bring discredit upon themselves, their unit and the Marine Corps."

(Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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