More than 100 young women who expressed interest in joining the military in the past year were preyed upon sexually by their recruiters, an Associated Press investigation has found. Women were raped on recruiting office couches, assaulted in government cars and groped en route to entrance exams.
The AP's six-month investigation found that more than 80 military recruiters were disciplined last year for sexual misconduct with potential enlistees. The cases occurred across all branches of the military and in all regions of the country.
"This should never be allowed to happen," said one 18-year-old victim. "The recruiter had all the power. He had the uniform. He had my future. I trusted him."
At least 35 Army recruiters, 18 Marine Corps recruiters, 18 Navy recruiters and 12 Air Force recruiters were disciplined for sexual misconduct or other inappropriate behavior with potential enlistees in 2005, according to records obtained by the AP under dozens of Freedom of Information Act requests. That's significantly more than the handful of cases disclosed in the past decade.
The AP also found:
* The Army, which accounts for almost half of the military, has had 722 recruiters accused of rape and sexual misconduct since 1996.
* Across all services, one out of 200 frontline recruiters -- the ones who deal directly with young people -- was disciplined for sexual misconduct last year.
* Some cases of improper behavior involved romantic relationships, and sometimes those relationships were initiated by the women.
* Most recruiters found guilty of sexual misconduct were disciplined administratively, facing a reduction in rank or forfeiture of pay; military and civilian prosecutions were rare.
* The increase in sexual misconduct incidents is consistent with overall recruiter wrongdoing, which has increased from just over 400 cases in 2004 to 630 cases in 2005, according to a new report from the General Accountability Office.
The Pentagon has committed more than $1.5 billion to recruiting efforts this year. Defense Department spokeswoman Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke insisted that each of the services takes the issue of sexual misconduct by recruiters "very seriously and has processes in place to identify and deal with those members who act inappropriately."
In the Army, 53 recruiters were charged with misconduct last year. Recruiting spokesman S. Douglas Smith said the Army had put much energy into training its staff to avoid these problems.
"To have 53 allegations in a year, while it is 53 more than we would want, is not indicative of the entire command of 8,000 recruiters," he said. "We take this very seriously and we take appropriate action as necessary to discipline these people."
The Associated Press generally does not name victims in sexual assault cases. For this story, the AP interviewed victims in their homes and perpetrators in jail, read police and court accounts of assaults and in one case part of a victim's journal.
A pattern emerged. The sexual misconduct almost always takes place in recruiting stations, recruiters' apartments or government vehicles. The victims are typically between 16 and 18 years old, and they usually are thinking about enlisting. They usually meet the recruiters at their high schools, but sometimes at malls or recruiting offices.
"We had been drinking, yes. And we went to the recruiting station at about midnight," begins one girl's story.
Tall and slim, her long hair sweeping down her back, this 18-year-old from Ukiah, Calif., hides her face in her hands as she describes the night when Marine Corps recruiter Sgt. Brian Fukushima climbed into her sleeping bag on the floor of the station and took off her pants. Two other recruiters were having sex with two of her friends in the same room.
"I don't like to talk about it. I don't like to think about it," she says, her voice muffled and breaking. "He got into my sleeping bag, unbuttoned my pants, and he started, well ... "
Her voice trails off, and she is quiet for a moment. "I had a freak-out session and just passed out. When I woke up I was sick and ashamed. My clothes were all over the floor."
Fukushima was convicted of misconduct in a military court after other young women reported similar assaults. He left the service with a less than honorable discharge last fall.
His military attorney, Capt. James Weirick, said Fukushima was "sorry that he let his family down and the Marine Corps down. It was a lapse in judgment."
Shedrick Hamilton uses the same phrase to describe his own actions that landed him in Oneida Correctional Facility in Upstate New York for 15 months for having sex with a 16-year-old high school student he met while working as a Marine Corps recruiter.
Hamilton said that the victim had dropped her pants in his office as a prank a few weeks earlier, and that on this day she reached over and caressed his groin while he was driving her to a recruiting event.