50 US female cadets abused by military trainers: official
Nearly 50 female cadets were victimised by their training instructors at a Texas Air Force base, including 13 women who suffered sexual assault, according to US military report.
At least 23 military training instructors were implicated in the sexual misconduct case, which came to light in June 2011 at the Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio.
Among the 48 victims identified, 35 had an “unprofessional relationship” with an instructor, according to the report. The others were subjected to sexual assault, including six who were assaulted by a single trainer who was convicted of those assaults.
“This type of misconduct is unacceptable anywhere in the United States Air Force, but it is especially egregious in the basic training environment where we have a very vulnerable population of our newest airmen,” said Air Education and Training Command chief General Edward Rice, who led the probe.
“In simple terms, what happened is that we had a breakdown in good order and discipline among a relatively few but not insignificant number of our instructors,” he told reporters in releasing the findings.
“How this happened is attributable to weaknesses and gaps in the institutional safeguards that are designed to prevent this type of behaviour.” Most of the instructors were from the base’s 331st Training Squadron. After the abuses emerged, the commander of the unit was relieved of his duties.
Of the 23 instructors accused of misconduct, five already have been convicted in courts-martial and the others are awaiting trial or are still being investigated.
Sergeant Luis Walker was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted on 28 different counts, among them rape, at a trial held in July. Officials said 10 female cadets were abused at his hands.
Lawmakers have voiced alarm over the allegations at Lackland as well as a broader problem of sexual assault inside the military.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has launched various initiatives to address the problem of sexual abuse in the military, but activists and former officers say thousands of cases go unreported as young service members are afraid of jeopardising their careers.
The Air Force also strictly forbids personal relationships between instructors and cadets.
An Air Force officer outside the training command, Major General Margaret Woodward, has also been carrying out an independent review of the abuses.
She faulted the military with numerous failings that allowed the abuses to occur, including “insufficient leadership” and inadequate ”institutional safeguards.”