A male US Air Force (USAF) recruiting sergeant in Texas has been charged with rape and other sexual misconduct with a female recruiter and recruits in a widening sex scandal involving at least six male recruiters.
Reuters reports that the scandal, which first made headlines last June, centers on male training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, where six men have been convicting on charges ranging from rape to attempting to engage in inappropriate sexual relationships with female recruits and trainees. These men have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from one month to 20 years. Six other men charged with similar crimes are awaiting trial. The scandal is the biggest to befall the Air Force since the 2003 Air Force Academy rape scandal, in which dozens of women were raped or sexually assaulted. All told, some 52 women have made allegations of improper sexual conduct by basic training sergeants.
The latest airman to be charged in the scandal is Technical Sergeant Jaime Rodriguez of the Air Force recruiting station in Lake Jackson, Texas. Rodriguez is charged with crimes against 18 different women, including indecent conduct, aggravated sexual contact, forcible sodomy and rape, all felonies. He has been transferred to a National Guard unit in eastern Texas while he awaits court-martial.
The maximum penalty for rape under the Uniform Military Code of Justice is death.
Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a support and advocacy group for military women, told Reuters that the current Air Force scandal "is yet another horrible example of the 'silent epidemic' and if the military keeps looking they will find thousands more."
'Epidemic' is not an exaggeration. While there were officially 3,191 reported sexual assaults in the armed forces in 2011, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, acknowledging that 80% of military rapes go unreported, estimated the real number of annual assaults at around 19,000. Recruits and trainees are especially vulnerable. Marine Corps recruiters have raped drunken underage girls, telling them they had to have sex if they wanted to become Marines. During the 2003 Air Force Academy scandal, one in eight female recruits were victims of rape or attempted rape; 70 percent reported being sexually harassed. Many were punished for reporting rapes, while perpetrators often got off scot-free.