Congresswoman calls for further inquiry into Air Force sex scandal

Monday - 6/25/2012, 3:56pm EDT

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.)

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By Keith BieryGolick
Special to Federal News Radio

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is calling for a hearing to investigate an ongoing sexual assault scandal at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio

"What is happening at Lackland is systemic and warrants this committee's immediate attention," Speier wrote in a letter to the House Armed Services Committee June 20. "The fact that these assaults were widespread and took place over many months flies in the face of the 'zero tolerance' policy touted by our military leaders."

Since allegations of sexual misconduct arose last summer, the Air Force removed 35 military instructors. Air Force officials say a majority of the instructors removed had no involvement in any sexual misconduct; however, military prosecutors charged four male trainers with inappropriate relationships with their students.

Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado admitted improper sexual conduct with one woman in a plea bargain. The Air Force punished him with 90 days in jail, 30 days of hard labor, a reduction in rank and pay. He also will be forced to leave the service — but without a dishonorable discharge.

After his plea bargain, Vega-Maldonado told military prosecutors he actually took part in illicit conduct with 10 trainees.

Speier: Hearing will give voice to victims

"Holding a hearing on Lackland will demonstrate the committee's commitment to this issue, allow the military to bring to the committee their concerns with this problem and efforts to fight it and give voice to the victims," Speier wrote.

Speier introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act in November 2011 and said in an interview with Emily Kopp on the Federal Drive that the STOP Act, "will take [the reporting, oversight and investigation of sexual abuse] out of the chain of the command so that if you're a victim you don't report it to your unit commander, you report it to a separate office within the military that has the authority to investigate and prosecute."

DoD estimates 86 percent of sexual assaults go unreported, a reflection, officials say, of the fear some have for the current chain-of-command system of prosecution. When victims report sexual abuse, they are often marginalized, labeled with personality disorders and phased out of service, Speier said. Abusing the military chain of command is unacceptable — but it happens — and Lackland is yet another example of this, she said.

"Most of the members of the military today are in it as a career. So what's happened historically is they've just sucked it up and moved on. It is unacceptable, it is a violent crime and the military needs to take it more seriously," Speier said.

Gen. Edward Rice Jr., commander of the Air Education and Training Command, said in a statement Friday that he appointed Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, the acting director of operational planning, policy and strategy at Air Force headquarters in Washington, to lead an investigation including all training units in the command.

Keith BieryGolick is an intern at Federal News RAdio

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