Service Women's Action Network's Executive Director Anu Bhagwati and Policy Director Greg Jacob met yesterday morning with Air Force General Edward Rice, Jr., Commander of Air Education and Training Command, to discuss the organization's recommendations for the Air Force to address the crisis of sexual assault at military training facilities. Gen. Rice sought out SWAN's counsel in the wake of a broad investigation of sexual assault of recruits by Military Training Instructors (MTIs) at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas this summer.
Air Force leadership continues to struggle with the issue of sexual assault in the ranks. In 2003, the Air Force Academy faced public scrutiny for ignoring reports of sexual assault and harassment of cadets. In a study commissioned by a working group of General Counsel of the U.S. Air Force (SAF/GC), it was revealed that twelve percent of women who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2003 reported that they were victims of rape or attempted rape while at the Academy, while 70 percent alleged they had been the victims of sexual harassment. A 2010 survey conducted by Gallup revealed that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 20 men had experienced sexual assault while serving in the Air Force. Most recently in an ongoing investigation at Lackland Air Force Base, the site of Air Force Basic Military Training, investigators discovered that at least 38 trainees have been sexually assaulted and 15 instructors have been identified as perpetrators.
"We were pleased that Gen. Rice made the effort to reach out to us to improve Air Force Basic Military Training as the investigation at Lackland continues," said Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) and former Marine Corps captain. "It has been clear for years that the Air Force is failing victims of sexual assault."
In the meeting, SWAN made several recommendations to Gen. Rice, foremost being that the Air Force punish perpetrators of sexual assault and hold commanders and senior enlisted leaders accountable, including leaders who were stationed at Lackland when earlier assaults were occurring unabated. SWAN also stressed the need for the Air Force to guarantee trainees every opportunity to report any allegations of misconduct, harassment or assault in a confidential manner and with full protection against retaliation or retribution.
"We also pointed out that in order to create a real change in the culture at Lackland, substantial increases in the numbers of women MTIs and women officers are needed to teach trainees that good leadership is not a function of gender. This will realistically prepare them for their service once they leave basic training," Bhagwati said.
SWAN also recommended an increase in the total number of MTIs assigned to each class of trainees and more emphasis on accountability and punishment of perpetrators in Air Force sexual assault prevention training.
"As we continue to address this issue, we will reach out to those who may have an interest in understanding the situation we are dealing with at Basic Military Training and who may have some insight that can be helpful for us in doing what's best for our Airmen," said Gen. Rice. "The meeting was very helpful and we appreciate SWAN's leaders for taking the time to discuss the situation at Air Force Basic Military Training with us."
"SWAN will continue to vigilantly hold the Air Force accountable for providing a workplace in which male and female trainees are safe from sexual harassment and sexual assault and free to focus on developing the skills needed to defend this nation," Bhagwati said.