At Lackland Airforce Base in Texas, investigators are looking into an escalating sex scandal, including wrongdoing from improper sexual relations to rape. So far, the Air Force has identified 31 victims and filed charges against six instructors. Most of the misconduct has occurred during basic training.
The Air Force is trying to determine whether there are “systematic issues” with boot camp at Lackland that contribute to sexual misconduct:
The Air Force investigation centers on a unit of boot-camp instructors at Lackland, near San Antonio, where 36,000 recruits undergo basic training each year.
About one-quarter of the instructors in the 331st Training Squadron have either been charged with crimes or are under investigation for sexual misconduct. One trainer has been charged with raping or sexually assaulting 10 recruits.
Senior Air Force officials said they have found problems in other units as well, prompting them to open multiple investigations to determine the extent to which female recruits face harassment and whether the Air Force’s selection process for male instructors is fundamentally flawed.
Across the military, the number of sexual assault complaints were up 1% in 2011, from 3,158 to 3,192. However, the Defense Department believes that sexual assault is vastly underreported, and estimates that there may be more than 19,000 incidents every year.
Advocacy groups believe that one of the biggest obstacles to reducing sexual assault is a culture of silence, and that basic training, is a “target-rich environment for sexual predators.” Only 11% of basic training instructors are female.
The investigation comes at a time when the military is taking steps to fight sexual abuse. In April, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced several new policies designed to reduce sexual misconduct, including having complaints be handled by senior officers, setting up special units to interview victims and collect evidence, and briefing recruits on sexual-assault policies.