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Air Force secretary vows review of how domestic violence complaints are handled by his branch

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Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Wednesday that he has ordered a review of his military branch’s handling of domestic violence and abuse complaints following the release of a damning report that accused officials of failing to address the crisis.

A CBS News investigation conducted over a two-year period found U.S. military branches often failed to take action when service members, military spouses and partners reported they were victims of domestic or sexual violence. The report cited interviews with nearly 40 domestic violence survivors who warned of a “broken system” that fails to protect victims or take action against abusers.

“I am extremely troubled by the claims of inappropriate handling of domestic violence complaints highlighted in your broadcast and have directed the Department of the Air Force Inspector General to conduct a comprehensive review of those cases,” Kendall said in a statement. 

“The review will address not only the investigation and disciplinary actions associated with these cases, but also the support provided to the victims,” Kendall added. “There is absolutely no place for sexual assault, sexual harassment or domestic violence in the Department of the Air Force.”

The U.S. military has received approximately 100,000 complaints regarding alleged domestic violence since 2015, according to CBS News. The report noted military officials have not kept comprehensive records that would detail the exact number of complaints.

The investigative series included interviews with several women who filed domestic violence complaints, including Emily Brearley, who accused her then-partner, described as a high-ranking Air Force member, of physical abuse. Brearley said she provided evidence to the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, but officials opted not to take action against her alleged abuser.

“It was absolutely horrifying to see the lack of alignment with the evidence and the testimony I had given and what was stated in the report. It was a complete cover-up,” Brearley told the outlet. 

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Pentagon officials have taken steps to address sharp criticism over their past handling of abuse allegations. In May, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was open to changes that would remove military commanders from the decision-making process in sexual assault prosecutions.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin vowed to take action to address the crisis in a lengthy statement to CBS.

“The women and men of our armed forces dedicate their lives to defending our nation, and deserve a workplace and home free of sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic violence,” Austin said.

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