Earlier this week, I wrote that “some military scandals are far worse than others.” While the Petraeus affair and investigations into Gen. John Allen continue to fuel a media frenzy, far more pernicious and widespread instances of sexual misconduct haunt the armed forces. On Wednesday, The Air Force released its report detailing a culture of sexual abuse at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where members of the Air Force go through basic training.
Eleven basic training instructors have been charged with offenses ranging from inappropriate touching of female recruits to rape. Two commanding officers have been removed, and Air Force Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., commander of Air Education and Training Command, said at a press conference Wednesday that six more have received “disciplinary action.” Forty-eight women — some as young as 17 or 18 years old — have come forward with stories of sexual misconduct.
According to a Department of Defense statement, the Lackland report found “weaknesses in institutional safeguards, leadership, and the instructor culture of self-accountability, with the conditions leading to abuse of power in basic military training ‘ever-present.’”
The scandal is considered the worst in the military in over a decade but, as Reuters noted, “the disclosures of harassment and abuse at the Air Force base have been overshadowed by the abrupt resignation of Petraeus.”
In response to the report, Gen. Rice announced the establishment of the Military Training Oversight Council, which will be chaired by a three-star general. “The purpose of this council is to ensure we have the appropriate level of leadership oversight over issues associated with trainee safety and the maintenance of good order and discipline,” he said.
Although over 40 recommendations were included in the report, some say it did not go far enough. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who serves on the House Oversight and Government Reform and Armed Services committees, told Salon via email that she found the report “incomplete” as it did not include any interviews with victims (for fear of jeopardizing the courts-martial). Speier noted:
The fact is that the power imbalance between a young recruit and MTI is far too lopsided for any non-professional relationship to be considered consensual. I am going to introduce legislation that will amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to reflect the imbalance and clarify that any trainer who engages in a personal relationship with a trainee should be dismissed.
The Lackland base is far from the only site of sexual abuse in the military. The Department of Defense estimates that the number of actual sexual assaults in the military each year is close to 19,000, although many service members never come forward out of fear of retaliation — only 240 cases of sexual assault in the military were prosecuted in 2011, out of 3,000 reported cases.