A Black Eye on the Military
Recently, a San Antonio newspaper began reporting on a scandal at Lackland Air Force base that is growing by the day. So far at least four Air Force instructors have been charged with sexual misconduct with at least 24 trainees.
Like many cases of rape and sexual assault, the perpetrators are not denying that they engaged in sexual misconduct, they simply contend that the sex was consensual. It comes down to the words of the accused and the accuser - the instructor against the trainee. In the military this usually means the perpetrator gets off or receives a disproportionately small punishment and the victim endures an arduous and humiliating legal process with little sense of justice at the end. Two of the women that have come forward were called over an intercom two days after they graduated from basic training last fall and asked to leave their dorm to meet their instructors.
In a dimly lit supply room, the women said they had sexual relations with their instructors.
“I was frozen,” one of the women said, explaining that her mind was racing. “I tried to think.”
Both women said failure to follow orders could cause them to be retained in basic training under the very instructors that assaulted them. While unnerved about the order to leave their dorms, they told themselves it had to be legitimate. From the day they entered the military they had been trained – and required – to follow the orders of their instructors- even those that didn’t make sense.This may be hard for some in the civilian world to relate to but it is the constant reality within our armed forces. It is ingrained in our military service men and women to follow the orders of their chain of command and never disobey. The justice system is also beholden to this chain of command, but I will get to that later.
Former Air Force Secretary F. Whitten was quoted in the newspaper saying:
“The age-old problem is that you’re putting very smart, attractive people, marrying age, together in close quarters. It’s a circumstance that is difficult and really requires restraint, sometimes restraint is very difficult.” Secretary Whitten frankly doesn’t get it.
The age-old problem in the military is attitudes like his. The age-old problem in the military is a broken justice system that delivers weak sentences if any. The age-old problem in the military is that 9 out of the 10 women Staff Sergeant Vega has now admitted to committing sexual misconduct with has not come forward because they know that the odds of getting justice is slight and the odds of their careers being finished is great.
What is happening at Lackland Air Force base should and needs to be a wakeup call. This problem is happening now and it is systemic.
Victims are still not coming forward because of what keeps happening – backwards attitudes of blaming the victim, and disproportionately weak sentences. Writing off survivors as women who had consensual sex and now have regrets is insulting and I’m afraid how many in our military see this problem.
I have been working on ending this stain on our armed forces for the last year and a half. Last fall I introduced the STOP Act which would change the way the military handles military rape and sexual assault cases. It would take the process out of the normal chain of command and instead place it in the hands of independent civilian and military experts.
This Friday, June 22, 2012 the documentary The Invisible War, which won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at Sundance, will debut in four major cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles New York and Washington DC. I will speak at the 7 p.m. showing of this at the Metreon Theatre in San Francisco. I hope you will join me for this important film about the shameful epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military.
Jackie Speier (pronounced SPEAR) represents California’s 12th Congressional District that spans from the southwestern portions of San Francisco in the north down to San Mateo in the south, and from Moss Beach in the west to the edge of San Mateo in the east.
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