31 Female Victims and Counting in Air Force Sexual Assault Scandal

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In what's probably the worst sex assault scandal in the U.S. military in the last 20 years, Air force officials have determined that 31 women have been identified as victims of sexual misconduct and assault at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where 12 male boot-camp instructors are under investigation for allegedly raping, assaulting, harassing, and having sex with female recruits. "Gen. Edward Rice, commander of the Air Education and Training Command, told Pentagon reporters that a dozen male instructors were under investigation, and that nine of them were from the same unit — the 331st Training Squadron," according to The Associated PressThe San Antonio Express News' Tracy Idell Hamilton notes that Rice said all 31 women were still part of the Air Force. 

That number could still grow as officials have found problems in other units aside from the 331st Training Squadron, possibly opening up multiple investigations into female recruit harassment, calling the Air Force's selection process for male instructors into question, The Washington Post's Craig Whitlock reports. Lackland, Whitlock explains, "has snowballed into potentially the worst sex scandal in the U.S. military since 1996." 

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To understand just how bad this sexual assault scandal is, you need to understand Lackland Air Force Base and its relationship to the Air Force. Located just outside San Antonio, it's where some 36,000 recruits undertake basic training each year. "Lackland is where every American airman reports for basic training – about 35,000 a year. About one in five are female, pushed through eight weeks of basic training by a flight of instructors that are about 90 percent male," report the AP's Lolita Baldor and Paul Weber. And as Whitlock noted, the case originated with a single complaint filed one year ago by a female recruit who reported sexual harassment. But the sexual misconduct there at Lackland began in 2009, according to Gen. Rice.

"About one-quarter of the instructors in the 331st Training Squadron have either been charged with crimes or are under investigation for sexual misconduct," wrote Whitlock, adding that  "One trainer has been charged with raping or sexually assaulting 10 recruits." One of those being charged is Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, who has the most serious charges--28 counts which include rape, aggravated sexual contact, and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. 

On Thursday, there was an evidentiary hearing against Staff Sgt. Craig LeBlanc, another instructor at Lackland. LeBlanc reportedly boasted about having sex with a trainee, and faces charges of aggravated sexual assault, obstruction of justice, adultery, violating a no-contact order among others, reports San Antonio Express' Hamilton, who explains that LeBlanc could face up to 45 years in jail if found guilty. 

"The prosecution spent a good deal of time establishing the control trainers have over recruits during 8½ weeks of boot camp and whether they still have that control between the Friday when they graduate and early Monday morning when they leave Lackland," wrote Hamilton, touching upon the power that military training instructors (MTIs) have over recruits and how that dynamic might lead to an abuse of said power. The Air Force forbids romantic relationships between training instructors and students, but disobeying an MTI, as was established in the hearing against LeBlanc, could have repercussions on a recruit's career.

"We didn't have a choice," 19-year-old airwoman Kasey Koehler said during the hearing which was reported by Hamilton. She was asked about following orders. "Nothing an MTI says is with a question mark."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.