The U.S. Air Force has now identified at least 31 women as victims in a growing sex scandal, and there might be more. The Air Force is broadening its investigation to “actively seek any others that may have been affected by this,” Gen. Edward Rice, the commander of Air Force Training, said.
Rice said the Air Force had taken “the unprecedented step” of shutting down all recruit training for one day to give a written survey to all basic military trainees at Lackland Air Force base. The Texas base has become the focal point of the growing scandal.
Thus far, one trainer has pleaded guilty to having an improper relationship with a trainee, as part of a plea agreement. Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado has been sentenced to 90 days in prison, 30 days hard labor and a demotion in rank and pay. In his plea deal, he also provided testimony against two other trainers who have been charged.
The scandal came to light in June 2011, when a young female trainee came forward and accused her male instructor of assaulting her. Staff Sgt. Luis Walker now faces a general court-martial on 28 charges, including rape, adultery and aggravated sexual assault. He is scheduled to appear in court July 16.
This week, the Air Force brought charges against two more instructors. Master Sgt. Jamey Crawford is accused of giving alcohol to a female trainee and having sex with her. Tech. Sgt. Christopher Smith is accused of seeking to conduct an intimate relationship with a trainee, making sexual advances toward a trainee and carrying on a personal social relationship with a second trainee.
Rice said he does not believe the investigation of 12 instructors at Lackland necessarily means a systemic problem exists across the entire Air Force training command. At the moment, the Air Force says 11% of its military training instructors are women, and Rice says he is reviewing whether that policy should change, either to include more female instructors or only female instructors. The Pentagon estimates 19,000 sexual assaults occur each year. But only 14% of these crimes are actually reported. Less than 8% go to a court-martial.
Defense officials say every base is supposed to have a confidential sexual assault response coordinator. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently announced special victims units would deploy trained professionals to various bases around the world. These independent personnel would be trained in interviewing victims and collecting evidence of sexual assaults.
Read more: CNN