WASHINGTON -- Upset about the prevalence of sexual assaults in the military and frequently lax consequences, California Sen. Barbara Boxer on Wednesday mentioned Army veteran and cop killer Jeremy Goulet as an example of someone who slipped through the system before he shot and killed two Santa Cruz police detectives in February.

Goulet, 35, was accused of rape twice while stationed with the Army in Hawaii but he was not convicted and instead discharged as part of a plea bargain, according to military records.

"What is it going to take?" Boxer asked, "to convince the military that sexual assault is a violent and vicious crime and that those who perpetuate it are capable of other violent crime -- including murder?"

Boxer's comments were part of a Senate panel that hammered Defense Department officials for making too little progress in combating sexual assault and for failing to improve a military justice system that victims described as slow and uncaring.

"It is high time," Boxer said, "for changes in the way the military handles these cases."

Boxer said she plans to work with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on legislation to address sexual assaults in the armed forces.

Their bill is expected to be similar to one introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, which would strip commanders of their power to overturn the decisions of judges and juries after court

martials.

The bill follows recent news that an Air Force general overturned a sexual assault conviction against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

That case has created a fire storm in Congress, in part because military law permits a commander who convenes a court martial to reverse a jury's verdict and reduce or set aside guilty verdicts and sentences.

The Defense Department estimates there were 19,000 cases of sexual assault in the military in 2011, yet only about 1/6 of the cases were reported. A smaller percentage of those made it to trial.

About 70 percent of the reports were for rape, aggravated sexual assault or nonconsensual sodomy.

Wednesday's hearing included harrowing testimony from several victims who said military justice is broken and pushed for Congress to take action to stem the rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment that they said are pervasive in all the service branches.

Pentagon officials said they are taking the problem seriously.

"Sexual assault in the military is not only an abhorrent crime that does enormous harm to the victim, but it is also a virulent attack on the discipline and good order on which military cohesion depends," said Robert Taylor, the Pentagon's acting general counsel.

"The Air Force has zero tolerance for this offense," added Lt. Gen. Richard Harding, the judge advocate general of the Air Force.

Her voice rising, Gillibrand said all the promises of "zero tolerance" from the witnesses amount to nothing if a commander or convening authority is the only individual who can decide whether to overturn a case. Gillibrand is the chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee.

"I appreciate the work you're doing, but it's not enough," she told the military officers.

Sentinel reporter Jason Hoppin and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Sentinel reporter Stephen Baxter on Twitter at Twitter.com/sbaxter--sc

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