Amid Petraeus sex scandal, Air Force to release abuse report

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 13, 2012 11:28 PM

(Please note language in paragraphs 11 and 14)

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Already reeling from an embarrassing sex scandal involving former Army General David Petraeus, the U.S. military on Wednesday will release a report on widespread sexual abuse of women recruits at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

The Air Force report is expected to provide details of systematic sexual abuse in the U.S. Air Force, a scandal that until last week was considered the worst in the military in more than a decade.

But the disclosures of harassment and abuse at the Air Force base have been overshadowed by the abrupt resignation of Petraeus. The former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan stepped down from his post as CIA director last week after admitting to an extramarital affair with a female biographer.

The report on Wednesday will detail problems at Lackland, where all U.S. Air Force basic training is conducted. Eleven basic training instructors have been charged with offenses ranging from inappropriate touching of female recruits to sexual assault.

Five instructors have been convicted or pleaded guilty at courts-martial and have been sentenced to terms ranging from 30 days to 20 years in prison. The others are in various stages of the military legal process.

The Air Force has said 48 women have come forward with what investigators consider credible stories of sexual misconduct.

Advocates for women in the military said the harassment and abuse of women is systematic in the U.S. armed forces.

"This culture of hostility and violence toward women is constantly being promoted even to new people in the service," said Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a group that fights sexual harassment in the military.

The group provided Reuters a copy of an administrative complaint that it received from a lawyer for Air Force Technical Sergeant Jennifer Smith, which spelled out some details of alleged abuse.

Smith alleges that an air base vice commander once instructed her to take off her uniform top and offered her alcohol during what was supposed to be a routine personnel review.

Smith, who has 17 commendations and has been deployed to Iraq and Kuwait, also said she was subjected to pornography in the workplace and referred to as a "bitch" by supervisors. The complaint is a required precursor to a possible lawsuit.

"The Air Force has been on notice for years regarding this hostile environment, yet has taken no effective steps to stop the constant and blatant illegalities," the complaint states. "Sexual assault and harassment are part of the mentality of the Air Force."

Susan Burke, Smith's attorney, said the sergeant knew that reporting rape and sexual assault in the military could destroy victims' careers and often subjected them to isolation and retaliatory violence and harassment.

Exhibits filed with the complaint included lyrics to bawdy songs sung by Air Force personnel that refer to women using sexually vulgar terms, training manuals that refer to women as 'bitch' or 'whore,' and pornographic photographs Burke said were taken directly from computers at Air Force installations.

(Editing by David Bailey and Mohammad Zargham)