WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced initiatives meant to ensure Defense Department workers are "free from the threat of sexual harassment and assault."
Hagel announced seven initiatives in a memo in which he called eliminating sexual assault and harassment one of the department's top priorities, American Forces Press Service reported.
"This effort requires our absolute and sustained commitment to providing a safe environment in which every service member and DOD civilian is free from the threat of sexual harassment and assault," he wrote.
Hagel directed the armed services to improve legal support for victims of sexual assault, and directed the Department of Defense inspector general to evaluate closed sexual assault investigations on a regular basis. He ordered service secretaries to develop uniform standards for determining inappropriate behavior between recruiters and trainers and their recruits and trainees.
President Barack Obama said the initiatives "are substantial, but only a step along a path toward eliminating this crime from our military ranks," the White House said in a statement.
"The president expects this level of effort to be sustained not only in the coming weeks and months, but as far into the future as necessary," the statement said.
The U.S. Air Force has adopted a "get tough" policy calling for dismissal from the service of airmen who commit any sexual misconduct, an Air Force lawyer said.
The policy, which took effect July 3, is one of several new Air Force policies intended to address sexual assault and other inappropriate sexual conduct within the service, Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday.
The new guidance requires commanders to begin the process of separation from the service for officers and enlisted airmen determined to have committed or attempted to commit sexual offenses, the report said.
It comes at a time when cases of sexual assault in the military are at record highs, with the Pentagon reporting 3,374 cases of sexual assault in the military last year, and anonymous surveys indicating there may have been as many as 26,000 unreported assaults in 2012.
There were 792 reported sexual assaults in the Air Force last year.
Scott Martin, senior air staff counsel for the Air Force office of the judge advocate general, said the new guidance is intended to "reiterate ... a 'get tough' policy as it relates to sexual assault, and to let everybody understand, especially the uniform wearers, that this kind of misconduct and inappropriate behavior has no place in our Air Force and if you engage in it, then we're going to take steps to remove you from the Air Force."
Air Force officials said the most significant change in policy will allow for the involuntary discharge of airmen, even in cases in which there is no criminal conviction, if the misconduct is documented administratively, Stars and Stripes said.