Capitol Hill lawmakers are demanding answers as the sexual assault scandal grows at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where 31 female recruits have been identified as victims of sexual misconduct and 12 training instructors are under investigation.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, has sent a letter to the House Armed Services Committee asking for a special hearing into the matter. The Air Force is conducting its own investigation, tapping a two-star general, Edward Rice, to lead the probe, however, Speier isn’t satisfied with that.
“Clearly the military is unable to police itself on the matters of rape and sexual assault,” Speier said on the House floor. “I called for a hearing into the Lackland scandal because we need to know, once and for all, why instructors have been permitted to abuse power so freely.”
Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas says she thinks having a hearing is appropriate, but she wants to allow the military investigation to play out first, under the watch of Gen. Edward Rice, the commander of the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command.
“I do believe that General Rice is on top of it and he takes it very seriously, as he should," Hutchison told Fox News. "I think we need to let him have a chance to get a full report to find out the depth, and find out how this could happen without being uncovered.”
Hutchison says she met with Gen. Rice last week and she’s confident his plan for making sure victims have the opportunity to come forward without any fear of retribution or embarrassment it is a good one.
The Air Force has acknowledged it’s possible the list of victims could grow, as the investigation widens and more people could come forward. The alleged sexual misconduct had been going on for three years, since 2009, but wasn’t discovered until just last year, when a female airman accused one of her superiors of rape.
Her superior, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, is now charged with having sexual contact with a total of 10 women and is scheduled to go on trial later this month. He has not yet entered a plea.
Nine of the 12 accused instructors belonged to 331st Training Squadron. Their commander, Lt. Col. Mike Paquette, who was not accused of misconduct, has been relieved of that position because of the “unacceptable level” of misbehavior in his unit, Rice said.
Lackland Air Force Base is one of the U.S. military’s largest and busiest training centers. Every Air Force recruit attends basic training there, bringing some 35,000 servicemembers through the program each year. Of the roughly 475 instructors on the base, only 11 percent are female.
The Air Force’s top brass think the incidents were isolated to the base in San Antonio, but the investigation will also look at other Air Force installations around the country.