Air Force chief of staff, General Mark Walsh has likened sexual assaults in the service to a “cancer” that must be eradicated.
According to reports, although dozens of female recruits and airmen continue to be sexually assaulted by their instructors, ranging from inappropriate touching and harassment to full-fledged rape, most victims have been paralyzed by fear and shame from seeking help.
“Why on what is undoubtedly the worst day of a victim’s life, did they not turn to us for help?” he said before the House Armed Services Committee now looking into a sex scandal at its Lackland Air Force base Training Center in Texas. “Something must be done to change a culture in which victims are often reluctant to come forward out of fear that they will not be believed, or that they will be retaliated against by doing so, as well as by their own senses of shame and guilt.”
“You’re stuck,” commented Jennifer Norris, an Air Force Vet who was sexually assaulted (though not at Lackland), retired in 2010 with posttraumatic distress disorder. “If you want a career, you don’t say anything because they will come after you.”
She also told the Committee that all the branches of the service, not just the Air Force, have a “sexual assault epidemic and a broken system of justice.”
So far, 59 victims of sexual assault and misconduct have been identified at Lackland following a wide-ranging investigation that involved at least 7,700 interviews by 550 investigators. The Air Force has begun disciplinary proceedings against 32 instructors, roughly 4% percent of the instructors who have served in basic military training over the past three years. Six of those instructors have been court-martialed on charges ranging from adultery, rape and conducting “unprofessional” relationships. Nine more are awaiting trial, and another 15 instructors currently remain under investigation.
However, while combing through the last year of sexual assault statistics, US military officials found a statistic that particularly troubled them: Nearly one-third of victims who agreed to participate in the prosecutions of their alleged offenders changed their minds before the trials, and decided not to cooperate with the prosecution.
During a recent classified meeting room deep in the Pentagon, representatives from the Air Force’s education programs, from basic training to ROTC, worked to try and pinpoint how to make sure the newest members of the Air Force get the message that leadership actually wants to know if they have been hurt – and that those preying on their fellow troops will be found and prosecuted with new tools that the force has not used in the past.
“It’s not just ‘Don’t sexually assault people.’ This is a piece of respect – how do you weave that in? It’s about how you lead people, how you treat people," says Brig. Gen. Eden Murrie, director of Air Force Services, who chaired the meeting. “That’s what we’re doing today. We’re looking at everything. Does it need to be radically changed? Do we just tweak it around the edges?”
On Friday, the Air Force announced that it had conducted a sweep of more than 100 installations for pornography and other offensive materials, from videos and calendars to coffee mugs and song lyrics.
“While these things may or may not directly relate to sexual assault, they certainly do create an environment more conducive to sexual harassment and unprofessional relationships, and I personally believe that both of those are leading indicators for sexual assault,” Walsh said yesterday.” We have to do everything possible to prevent this. We can’t accept this,” he added. “It’s horrible, and we all know that.”
In the meantime, veterans seeking help dealing with their own sexual abuse can contact the Veterans Administration crisis line at 800 273-8255 (press 1) for more information regarding services available.
For a related article see http://www.examiner.com/article/morrocco-to-change-rape-marriage-law-wom...