Saturday, July 7, 2012

In the Eyes of a Stranger, Part 2

In Part 1 we considered the serious problem of sexual assault that faces our military service personnel. Women in particular are victimized, though there is a real problem with men being assaulted. I am very pained to report that the topic has come onto the front burner again.

The Air Force currently faces a scandal at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB), TX. We begin with an excerpt from 31 Female Victims and Counting in Air Force Sexual Assault Scandal, June 29, 2012:

In what's probably the worst sex assault scandal in the U.S. military in the last 20 years, Air force officials have determined that 31 women have been identified as victims of sexual misconduct and assault at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where 12 male boot-camp instructors are under investigation for allegedly raping, assaulting, harassing, and having sex with female recruits.

Next, we consider excerpts from 31 female victims identified so far in sex scandal, Air Force says, June 30, 2012

Six of the 12 instructors under investigation for misconduct face charges ranging from rape to adultery. A senior Air Force commander said nine of those instructors were in the same squadron, briefing reporters at the Pentagon at the same time that one of the accused appeared in a Lackland courtroom.


Gen. Edward Rice, commander of the Air Education and Training Command [AETC], said the Air Force believes the misconduct is not endemic to the nine training squadrons [of the 37th Training Group, the unit which conducts basic military training for Air Force recruits at Lackland - EL]. He says the sexual misconduct apparently began in 2009 but that the first woman came forward only a year ago.

Those first allegations were levied against Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, who faces the most serious charges and is scheduled to be court-martialed next month [scheduled to begin July 16 - EL]. Walker is charged with 28 counts, including rape, aggravated sexual contact and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. He has not yet entered a plea [other sources show SSgt Walker has pled "not guilty" to all counts - EL].

The majority of the instructors under investigation were in the 331st Training Squadron, whose commander was relived from his post last week. Rice said Lt. Col. Mike Paquette, who has not been accused of misconduct, was relieved because of the "unacceptable level" of misbehavior in his unit.

For context, we go back to 31 Female Victims and Counting in Air Force Sexual Assault Scandal (I reproduced the link found in the original):

To understand just how bad this sexual assault scandal is, you need to understand Lackland Air Force Base and its relationship to the Air Force. Located just outside San Antonio, it's where some 36,000 recruits undertake basic training each year. "Lackland is where every American airman reports for basic training – about 35,000 a year. About one in five are female, pushed through eight weeks of basic training by a flight of instructors that are about 90 percent male," report the AP's Lolita Baldor and Paul Weber.

The accused were military training instructors (MTIs). From Lackland trainer bragged of sex, witnesses say, June 29, 2012, which addresses the Article 32 hearing (a preliminary hearing named for the article of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) which mandates it) concerning the accusations against Staff Sergeant Craig LeBlanc:

The prosecution spent a good deal of time establishing the control trainers have over recruits during 8½ weeks of boot camp and whether they still have that control between the Friday when they graduate and early Monday morning when they leave Lackland.


"Did you always follow an MTIs orders?" prosecuting attorney Capt. Kaylynn Shoop asked the airman, 19.

"We didn't have a choice," she said. "Nothing an MTI says is with a question mark."

It always was made abundantly clear, she said, that not following an order would have an adverse effect on a recruit's career in the Air Force.

She testified that LeBlanc and another military trainer, Staff Sgt. Kwinton Estacio, urged her and another recruit to meet them in the supply room. The pair "pinky swore" that they wouldn't have sex with the men.

More information about the alleged misconduct came out at the Article 32 hearing of Staff Sergeant Kwinton Estacio. From Female airmen testify about sex acts with MTIs, June 2, 2012:

When questioned by Capt. Kaylynn Shoop, one of the prosecutors, the now 19-year-old airman described Estacio as a tough and strict MTI.

The airman also said she trusted Estacio.

"He's like a mentor, a role model," she said. "You work with him for eight and a half weeks and he teaches you so many things you didn't think you could do. A lot of us wanted to be like him. He was like a father."

General Rice, the AETC commander under whose authority recruit training at Lackland AFB ultimately falls, has indicated that his investigation thus far shows that the problem is mainly centered around one training squadron, and not permeating the recruit training program at Lackland.

Edward A. Rice, Jr.
General, US Air Force
Commander, USAF AETC

However, in general, the problem of sexual assault does permeate the US military. The Air Force maintains a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program, which takes its definition of sexual assault and consent substantially from Air Force Instruction 36-6001; there are differences, so I quote AFI 36-6001:

Sexual Assault — The following definition of sexual assault has been directed by DoD and is for training and educational purposes only. This definition does not affect in any way the definition of any offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Commanders are encouraged to consult with their Staff Judge Advocate for complete understanding of this definition in relation to the UCMJ.

Sexual Assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent. Sexual assault includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (to include unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact), or attempts to commit these acts.

"Consent" means words or overt acts indicating a freely given agreement to the sexual conduct at issue by a competent person. An expression of lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the accused's use of force, threat of force, or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. A current or previous dating relationship by itself or the manner of dress of the person involved with the accused in the sexual conduct at issue shall not constitute consent.

Notice in the second paragraph the phrase regarding abuse of authority and in the third paragraph the phrase about submission resulting from fear.

The case against these MTIs illustrates these aspects. The MTI's word is essentially law while the recruit is under the MTI's authority; failure to do what the MTI says could easily get the recruit prosecuted. With this authority comes responsibility; the MTI is expected to behave in an exemplary manner and to use this authority in a wise, moral and lawful manner. Generally speaking, the military teaches recruits to obey orders; this process would be made much more difficult if recruits were simultaneously taught to question their superiors. Indeed, how could a military fight a war if personnel were constantly questioning and debating the orders they receive? It is incumbent upon military authorities, especially in the case of MTIs, to be well within bounds regarding their conduct, especially including orders and anything that could be construed as an order, such as a request or suggestion.

The need for appropriate conduct by military authorities should be obvious. From An Air Force War on Sexual Assault by Anna Mulrine, January, 2012:

Troops of junior rank today have "few privileges and barely any freedom of movement to flee their perpetrators, to seek help when they need it most, or to leave the units or bases where they are being brutalized," said Anuradha K. Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain and executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network.

The defense at SSgt. LeBlanc's Article 32 hearing tried to steer the questioning towards the alleged victim. From Lackland trainer bragged of sex, witnesses say:

LeBlanc's civilian defense attorney, Joseph Jordan, tried to begin his questioning by asking her what kind of men she was attracted to, but the prosecution successfully objected. Later, he asked her what kind of panties she was wearing and whether she was aroused.

"Did it make you feel good?" he asked.

"It was uncomfortable," she replied. After leaving the supply room, she went straight to the bus stop, she testified, where, she said she felt "blank."

Jordan also asked about the term "rape."

"I never put that word to it," she said, until after she was questioned by investigators.

This defense strategy is not going to work. Asking whether "it" made the victim "feel good" is admitting implicity that "it" happened, and if "it" happened, then the MTI was at least a little out of bounds when he was expected to be well within bounds; the defense attorney here is implicitly admitting his client's guilt, and is merely trying to establish some kind of extenuation to soften the punishment.

At this point, none of the material that I have seen regarding the accusations against SSgt. LeBlanc or SSgt. Estacio suggests physical coercion or any kind of threat of physical force. However, this is not always the case in other alleged assaults.

In this excerpt, we consider the story of a female airman who was forcibly raped on a temporary duty assignment (TDY, in Air Force parlance) in 2010. From Overcoming sexual assault: A victim's candid story, dated April 13, 2012:

During a temporary duty at a stateside location, that 'friend' stripped her of her clothes, held her down and raped her, as she begged him and pleaded with "no, please stop, I don't want this!" the entire time, she said.

"(The alleged assailant) and I stayed on the same floor of our hotel," recalled Smith. "He came over to my room to watch a movie with me. I didn't see him as a threat and was friends with him at home station, so I didn't see a problem with watching a movie together.

"When he got to my room and started watching the movie, he started trying to touch me and asked if I wanted to (mess around sexually)," she said. "I told him, 'no.' He didn't take no for an answer, pinned me to the bed and stripped off my clothes, then ..."

Smith said she was then raped.

Smith, a 5-foot-tall, 93-pound female was easily pinned down and couldn't break free, she said.

After being raped, the assailant then tried to hug her, in a manner as if they had just made love consensually.

Another story is recounted in An Air Force War on Sexual Assault:

It was in 2006, after eight years in the US Air Force, that SSgt. Marti Ribeiro was raped by a fellow airman while on guard duty in Afghanistan.

She didn’t report the assault immediately. Rather, she waited until the end of her shift, and in the meantime, did what she thought she should do.

"I didn’t take a shower; I didn’t wash my hands," Ribeiro remembers. "I'd watched 'Law and Order' and thought to myself, 'I'm going to do exactly what [lead character] Detective Benson says, ... so they can swab and do the rape kit."

That's not what happened, however.

After her guard shift, Ribeiro searched for the Air Force's sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where the assault took place just 10 feet from the guard station, and not much farther from Disney Drive — the main road running through the heart of the base.

The SARC sat her down in the middle of a room with other people and asked her what happened. After Ribeiro finished sharing her story, "her first question was, 'Where was your weapon?' "— implying, it seemed to Ribeiro, she should have been able to defend herself. She had left it in the guard post, along with her radio, when she went to have a cigarette break on a smoke deck a few feet away.

"Because I'd left my weapon in the guard shack, she told me I would be charged with dereliction of duty," Ribeiro recalls. "She told me to 'think about it.' " Ribeiro did. She returned to her base housing, showered, and did not speak about the attack to another soul for six months.

Well, that last incident occurred in 2006, so it was presumably due to Bush and the Republican War on Women. But, what about the previously described incident, about the airman who was raped in 2010? And, the developing scandal at Lackland? And recent accusations against cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs?

If helping women is a priority for the Obama Administration, then why, after more than three years with Obama as Commander-in-Chief, have we seen no significant improvement in the rate of sexual assault in the armed forces, or at least in the way in which the problem is being addressed? It is not as if Obama has paid no attention to various personnel issues within the armed forces; after all, gays and lesbians got permission to serve openly. What has Obama done about rampant sexual assault in the military, mainly victimizing women?

By the way: in this post, we only looked at sexual assaults in the Air Force. What's the situation in the other branches?

Skipping down in An Air Force War on Sexual Assault:

As the Air Force publicly grapples with the problem of sexual assault within its ranks, [Charlene M.] Bradley [the Air Force's assistant deputy for force management integration] has found other services are coming to the Air Force for advice.

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