Washington - Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced new steps to fight sexual assaults in the military.
The new steps included a court-martial review at the level of army colonel or navy captain for offenses such as rape and forcible sodomy, Fox News reports.
After a closed-door meeting with the members of the House Armed Services Committee who have pushed the Pentagon to take aggressive steps to stop sexual assault, Panetta, during a Capitol Hill news conference, said, "Sexual assault has no place in the military. It is a violation of everything that the U.S. military stands for".
In its annual report to Congress, the Pentagon said the number of reported sexual assaults had increased slightly last year, with 3,192 cases involving service members as either victims or perpetrators.
The number of reported cases in 2010 was 3,158 assaults. in the previous year, there were 3,230 assaults reported .
The U.S. Defense Department also estimates that 86 percent of sexual assaults have goneunreported.
Panetta said he would issue a directive changing the way cases are handled, adding that a higher authority within the military would review the most serious cases, ensuring that cases remain within the chain of the command and leaders are held responsible.
He added that he would work closely with the Congress on legislation implementing several other initiatives, including creation of special victims units within the services.
These initiatives are likely to be included in the sweeping defense bill that the House Armed Services panel will make.
'Sexual assault is a crime that has no place in the Department of Defense, and the department's leadership has a zero-tolerance policy against it,' the report said.