WASHINGTON – The Army is investigating sexual abuse allegations against an officer who trains military prosecutors who handle sexual and physical abuse cases, a defense official said Thursday.
Lt. Col. Joseph Morse is being investigated by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command for allegedly groping a female Army lawyer while both were attending a legal conference in Northern Virginia in 2011, said the official. The revelation comes as reports of sexual abuse across the services have increased and as Congress wrangles over how to improve the military's handling of such cases.
The official says Morse has been suspended from his job pending the results of the investigation. Morse was in charge of training 23 Army prosecutors around the world who handle special victim cases. The official said the female lawyer did not work for Morse.
Morse did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The official was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Senate on Thursday blocked a bill that would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute or prevent charges for alleged rapes and other serious offenses. Military leaders had strongly opposed the change arguing that limiting officers' authority over their troops would hurt their ability to command.
The vote was 55-45, short of the 60 necessary to move ahead on the legislation.
Lawmakers have grown irate over the escalating problems, which have included a large number of high profile sexual assault cases involving senior officers. Several cases also have involved officers who were part of the military's sexual assault prevention programs.
According to the Pentagon, the number of reported sexual assaults jumped by an unprecedented 46 percent last year, increasing from 2,434 in 2012 to 3,553 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013.
Defense officials have said it's unclear whether the spike represented an increase in assaults or an increase in the percentage of people reporting them. There has been a major push across the military services to encourage victims to report assaults.