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White House officials, lawmakers to meet on military sex crime problem

By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House has invited about a dozen lawmakers to a meeting on Thursday to discuss how to combat the sharp increase in sexual assaults in the military, a White House official said.

Earlier this week, 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.

Thursday's meeting will be led by Valerie Jarrett, a top advisor to Obama, and Tina Tchen, chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, who lead the White House Council on Women and Girls, which coordinates and elevates federal policies on women's issues across the government.

The Pentagon report came just after the Air Force 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.

President Barack Obama reacted with anger to the report and the incident, and vowed to "root this out completely."

"We find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable. Prosecuted. Stripped out of their positions. Court-martialed. Fired. Dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable," Obama said on Tuesday.

Lawmakers have been outraged by the reports, excoriating military leaders at hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday for failing to deal with a long history of sex assault scandals.

The list of invited lawmakers was not available before the meeting, but Democratic Senators Jeanne Shaheen from New Hampshire and Kay Hagan from North Carolina announced they would attend, as did Republican Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, co-chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus.

"The list that was invited was bicameral, bipartisan, both women and men, brought in to participate in a discussion on combating sexual assault in the military," a White House official said.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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