Air Force report falls short in fighting sexual assaults, victim advocate says

Thursday - 11/15/2012, 12:11pm EST

Jennifer Norris, victim advocate, Military Rape Crisis Center

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The Air Force is calling for reform in a new report on sexual assault.

The proposal follows an internal investigation into a widespread scandal at Lackland Air Base near San Antonio. More than a dozen male instructors are accused of harassing, abusing and even raping nearly 50 female recruits.

As the service released its report yesterday, critics were quick to say it's not enough.

"After reading the report last night, I could see things from Gen. [Edward] Rice's perspective, but I also saw that there were some things lacking," said Jennifer Norris, a victim advocate at the Military Rape Crisis Center in Maine. "I could see how overall the lack of leadership put in the right places could have created that culture there, because there wasn't enough oversight of the military training instructors."

To address some of the concerns, the report recommended creating four-person training teams with at least one member being a female. The Air Force, however, doesn't have enough females certified to conduct training to fill all of those slots.

Even if those positions were filled and the recommendation was followed through on, Norris told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp Thursday she was uncertain this would do enough to address the problem.

"It depends on whether or not this culture of fear is dealt with," she said. "If females are in positions where they're working with other males that seem to have closed the ranks and have decided that they're going to go their own way, the female is just going to get caught up in that again."

Another recommendation calling for a female to have a "buddy" at all times may also be unrealistic.

"In the military, that's not always possible," said Norris, who is a former member of the Maine Air National Guard. "I was one of the only women in my career field, which is satellite communications. So, if I don't have a buddy and I get raped, it's might fault because I didn't have a buddy?"

The report focused on a leadership gap existing at Lackland, in which one officer was in charge of up to 1,000 airmen and noncommissioned employees.

"The lack of oversight and the lack of supervision is going to do exactly what it did, which is it made the instructors — the ones that did abuse the system — feel powerful and feel like they could get away with what they got away with because they didn't have good oversight," Norris said.

The training period is the Air Force's opportunity to introduce recruits to the military, so it benefits the service to have the best of the best representing the Air Force, Norris said.

"The recommendation to have tech sargeants from now on be military training instructors is definitely a good one, because they're going to have more experience in the military," Norris said. "They're going to have more supervisory experience. They're going to be more cultured and more mature. So, yes, that does make sense as far as that goes. But, again, that doesn't mean, just because someone's a higher rank that's going to prevent a sexual assault."

Norris, who spent 14 years in the military and even considered becoming a training instructor for a brief time, found the report lacking in other areas as well.

First, the offending individuals at Lackland closed ranks and put themselves above the core values of the military — integrity, excellence and service before self.

"For those of us who take that seriously, if you come up against people like that who have closed ranks, you're already the odd man out," she said. "It's going to be hard to break down that cultural barrier of misogyny or 'We don't think women should be in the military' or 'You're only good for sexual objects.'"

While the report outlined punishments for offending airmen and officers, more needed to be done to change the military culture that was feeding the abuse and letting individuals think they could get away with bad behavior. "The punishments weren't made clear that 'Listen, you're going to lose your career if you do this," she said

Norris, who is a member of the advisory board Protect Our Defenders, said that group would continue to urge Congress take up the fight against sexual abuse in the military.

"We've had over 25-plus years, if not longer, of documented sexual assault and rape problems in the military," she said. "If they haven't fixed it by now, they are not going to. We have determined that they cannot police their own."

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