A US air force investigation has identified 31 female cadets who were sexually assaulted by their trainers at a Texas military camp. The scandal has raised concerns that the US armed forces are not doing enough to protect women in the military.
An internal probe is currently looking at 12 male military instructors that were serving at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. Six of them face charges of misconduct, including allegations of rape and adultery.
The majority of those under investigation were from the 331st training squadron, whose commander was dismissed from duty last week. He was not charged with sex crimes but was relieved because of the unacceptable level of misconduct in his unit.
“We are taking a comprehensive look, not only at the cases we know, but in trying to assess whether there are other cases out there,” said General Edward Rice during a Pentagon briefing. He added that to his knowledge, all 31 women who reported to have been victims of abuse were still in the military.
As well as the investigation, Rice has ordered an independent probe into the Air Force’s reaction to the scandal to assess whether more action is needed. Moreover, Air Force command is currently looking at the possibility of female cadets being trained by only female instructors.
Currently, only eleven percent of the US Air Force’s training instructors are women, while 22 percent of recruits are female.
The probe at Lackland base began a year ago after three instructors came forward with reports of sexual abuse among the training staff. In an unprecedented turn in the investigation, the Air Force shut the entire base down for a day this March to interview the 5,900 recruits.
Staff Sgt Luis Walker was the first trainer to be charged with multiple counts of rape and sexual assault. He faces court martial next month.
“The fact that these assaults were widespread and took place over many months flies in the face of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy touted by our military leaders,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, also honorary chair of Protect Our Defenders, an organizations that fights against sexual abuse in the US military.
The silent treatment
Although General Rice described the Lakeland scandal as a “localized” event, statistics suggest that sexual abuse is widespread in the US military.
The Pentagon estimates that anywhere between 80 and 90 per cent of sexual assault cases go unreported. Victims of abuse are more likely to stay silent in the face of ridicule and possible demotion.
In 2011 around 3,200 cases of sexual assault were reported in the American armed forces, a mere fraction of the 19,000 incidents that the Department of Defense estimated took place.
US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta introduced measures in April to combat the problem, encouraging victims to come forward and ensuring that all complaints related to sexual assault will be investigated.