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Texas military assault scandal prompts congressional hearings

January 11, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | This post has been corrected. See below for details.
  • Female trainees march during graduation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio. Military prosecutors have investigated 17 instructors at the base.
Female trainees march during graduation at Lackland Air Force Base in San… (John L. Mone / Associated…)

HOUSTON -- The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights delivered an update on its examination of sexual assault in the military with a briefing Friday on Capitol Hill that comes amid a widening sex scandal among Air Force basic instructors and recruits at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

According to the report, about 4% of female service members experience some form of sexual assault each year compared to 1% of male service members. In fiscal year 2011, the Armed Services completed 2,353 investigations of reported sexual assaults, a “small fraction” of the total estimated sexual assaults, according to the report.

The briefing, streaming live on C-SPAN, includes three panels: one of victims and accused attackers, another of academic experts and a third of military officials.

On Friday morning, the expert panel's discussion centered on the influence of commanders on investigating and prosecuting alleged sexual assaults.

Philip D. Cave, a Washington-based military lawyer and retired Navy commander, said he’s seen military sexual assault cases where commanders have refused to assist the defense because they feared they would be punished.

“You lead to this lack of trust in the system,” Cave said.

Panel member Nancy Parrish, president of the Burlingame, Calif.-based victim advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, noted that between 2010 and 2011, commander-initiated action on sexual assault decreased by 23%.

“Victims will tell you there has been command influence, undue command influence when they come forward to report,” Parrish said. “They, the victims, are investigated. They are put in psych wards, on psychotropic drugs and investigated other than for the sexual assault.”

Parrish called for an audit, noting that sexual assaults far exceed current accounting.

“That’s why we’re here today, because unpunished sexual assault in the military is an epidemic,” she said.

Later this month, the House Armed Services Committee is expected to hold hearings on a widening sex scandal among Air Force basic instructors and recruits at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

Parrish and other victims advocates and well as 78 members of Congress and 15,000 people who signed an online petition demanded hearings on Lackland last summer after the investigation exploded. So far, 30 instructors at the base have come under investigation for improper relationships with 56 victims.

Hearings began this week for Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jaime Rodriguez, a Houston recruiter facing life on charges of rape and pursuing illicit relationships with 18 women, according to Air Force Times.

Last week, Staff Sgt. Christopher Jackson, 29, became the sixth basic training instructor convicted of sexual misconduct since April. Jackson received 100 days in jail, 30 days' hard labor and was demoted to airman first class, but was allowed to remain in the Air Force.

Ten others are headed to court, including Master Sgt. Jamey Crawford, who waived an evidentiary hearing this week, and faces up to 22 years in prison is convicted on charges sodomy, adultery and giving a false official statement, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Advocates hope the hearings Friday and later this month will result in more prosecutions and a reduction of sexual assaults within the ranks.

“The deference and patience Congress has shown the Pentagon in regard to ending this crisis has come at a great cost to service members who are victims of rape, assault and harassment within our military,” Parrish said.

[For the Record, 11:56 a.m. PST Jan. 11: A previous version of this online article said that the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had announced the release of its latest report on sexual assault in the military. Portions of the report were released Friday, but the entire report will incorporate testimony from Friday's briefing, as well as public comment; it is not expected to be released until next fall.]

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