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'Appalling' number of sexual abuse cases revealed at U.S. Air Force base

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 24th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas is the focus of an ongoing investigation into rampant sexual misconduct. As all U.S. airmen report to Lackland for basic training, the base has now been found to harbor nearly 800 cases of sexual assault - from inappropriate touching to outright rape.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh says that there were 796 reports of sexual misconduct. The 2012 figure is a nearly 30 percent increase from 2011 when 614 cases were reported. Welsh says that the number could be much greater as many cases are never reported at all.

"Calling these numbers unacceptable does not do the victims justice," Welsh said. "The truth is, these numbers are appalling!"

Lackland has about 500 military training instructors for about 35,000 airmen who graduate every year. While one in five recruits are women, most instructors are men.

Welsh's testimony before the House Armed Services Committee gives impetus to the other military branches to halt sexual assault within their own ranks. Most disturbing, according to Welsh is that the fact that these assaults are that most of them are committed by fellow airmen.

The investigation released last November described abuses of power by bad instructors who took advantage of a weak oversight system to prey on young recruits.

The ongoing investigation, has found so far that 32 military training instructors allegedly engaged in inappropriate or coercive sexual relationships with 59 recruits and airmen at Lackland.

Six instructors have been convicted in court martial's on charges ranging from adultery, rape and conducting unprofessional relationships. Another nine instructors are awaiting courts martial. Two more received non-judicial punishments and there are 15 instructors still under investigation.

The Air Force has since changed the way it selects officers and instructors who train new recruits and created a special unit of lawyers and investigators to assist victims of sexual assault.

Welsh says that he has issued a "Letter to Airmen" earlier this month that said images, songs and stories that are obscene or vulgar are not part of the Air Force heritage.

Jennifer Norris, an Air Force veteran who pressed Congress to hold hearings on the misconduct at Lackland says that there is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. Medically retired in 2010, she says that she was sexually assaulted while serving in the Air Force -- but not at Lackland. She told the committee she frequently has seen well-intentioned reforms fall short.

Fundamental reforms are needed "to change a military culture and fix the broken military justice system," Norris says, who serves as an advocacy board member of the group Protect Our Defenders.

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