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Published on Jun 7, 2012
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I've now come to the floor some 21 times to tell the story of survivors of military sexual assault and the institution and culture that failed them.
Some would tell you that the military has learned from their mistakes and they are largely now addressing this problem. The situation I'm describing to you today is happening right now and flies in the face of what we are being told by our military and the Members of Congress who believes that they have this problem under control.
Recently a San Antonio newspaper began reporting on a scandal at Lackland Air Force base that is growing by the day. So far at least four Air Force instructors have been charged with sexual misconduct with at least 24 trainees. Like many cases of rape and sexual assault, the perpetrators are not denying they engaged in sexual misconduct, they simply contend that the sex was consensual. It comes down to the words of the accused and the accuser: the instructor against the trainee.
In the military this usually means the perpetrator gets off or receives a disproportionately small punishment and the victim endures an arduous and humiliating legal process with no sense of justice at the end. Two of the women that have come forward were called over an intercom two days after they graduated from basic training last fall and asked to leave their dorm and to meet their instructors. In a dimly lit supply room, the women said they had sexual relations with their instructors.
"I was frozen, one of the women said," explaining her mind was racing. "I tried to think." Both women said failure to follow orders could cause them to be retrained in basic training under the very instructors that assaulted them.
While unnerved about the order to leave their dorms, they told themselves it had to be legitimate. Since the day they entered the military they have been trained and required to follow the orders of their instructors. Even those that didn't make sense.
This may be hard for someone in the civilian world to relate to, but it is a constant reality within our armed forces. It is ingrained in our military service men and women to follow the orders of their chain of command and never, ever disobey. The justice system is also beholden to this chain of command but I'll get to that later.
Staff sergeant Luis Walker, military instructor, is charged with sexually -- with violating one woman. Staff Sergeant Greg LeBlanc is charged with sexual misconduct of two women trainees. Staff Sergeant Pedro Vega Maldonado is charged with sexual misconduct with one woman. Staff Sergeant Vega admitted in a plea-bargain to having sex with one woman. Reduction in rank, forfeiture of 500 a month in pay for four months.
After striking the deal with prosecutors, Vega admitted that he had actually had improper contact with 10 trainees. Now, mind you, we are not firing these people, they continue to serve in the military. Vega is not immune to further prosecution, but his admission of guilt cannot be used against him in future procedures. Each victim will have to come forward and the prosecution will have to start from scratch.
Vega will be forced to leave the Air Force but without a bad conduct discharge. Imagine that. Without a bad conduct discharge. If the military is as vigilant as they say they are, how could such a repetitive, widespread, and sickening behavior still be occurring? What is being uncovered at lockland flies in the face of what we are being told by our military.
Is this what zero tolerance means in the military? Former Air Force Secretary Whitten was quoted in the newspaper saying, "the age old problem is you are putting very smart, attractive people, marrying age, together in close quarters. It's a circumstance that is difficult and really requires restraint. Sometimes restraint is very difficult."
Secretary Whitten doesn't get it. The age old problem in the military is attitudes like this.
The age old problem in the military is a broken justice system that delivers weak sentences, if any.
The age old problem in the military is that nine out of 10 women, staff sergeant Vega has now admitted to committing sexual misconduct with, has not come forward because they know that the odds of getting justice is slight and the odds of their careers being finished is great. What's happening at Lackland Air Force Base should and needs to be a wake-up call.
This problem is happening now and it is systemic. Victims are still not coming forward because of what keeps happening.