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A culture of rape – Military scandal

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Two US air force trainers have been sentenced in connection with a widening sexual abuse scandal at one of the busiest military training centers in the nation.

Investigators say at least 38 female trainees were victimised at the Lackland Air Force Base in the US state of Texas. Fifteen instructors have been implicated.

Last year, nearly 3,200 rapes and sexual assaults were officially reported, but the Pentagon admits that represents just 15 per cent of all incidents.

A military survey revealed that one in five women in the US forces has been sexually assaulted, but most do not report it. Nearly half said that they “did not want to cause trouble in their unit”.

A former army nurse told a member of the US Congress that during her tours in Iraq and Afghanistan she was more afraid of being attacked by her fellow soldiers than she was of the enemy.

But many of those attacked are men. In 2010 nearly 50,000 male veterans screened positive for “military sexual trauma” at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

In April, Leon Panetta, the US defense secretary, announced new steps to deter assaults and make it easier to prosecute offenders. But some argue a military culture that makes it difficult for crimes to be reported is standing in the way of meaningful change.

Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, a former Lieutenant in the US Navy, was groped by at least 200 men at a convention of navy and marine corps aviators in 1991. She went public and what was known as the Tailhook scandal ensued. But no one was punished.

She says: “The situation in the military regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault has changed for the worse …. We’ve got a problem where victims are coming forward but their complaints aren’t actually being handled …. and no one is actually convicted. The actions of most of military leadership now towards a person that comes forward as a victim is to remove them from their job and ultimately punish them, while the perpetrators continue to march on smartly with their successful career …. Maybe it’s a squeamish conversation that real leadership doesn’t want to hear about the rape and the victimisation of their troops, but you can’t solve the problem until you turn the lights on.”

So what can be done to tackle widespread sexual abuse in the military? And why has the Pentagon failed to curb sexual misconduct and abuse in the armed forces?

Joining Inside Story Americas to discuss this are guests: Morris Davis, a retired US air force colonel who led the investigation into the sexual abuse scandal at the US Air Force Academy in 2003; Ariana Klay, a former US Marine Officer, who is one of eight current and former military members who have filed a lawsuit alleging they were raped, assaulted, or harassed during their service; and Aaron Belkin, a professor of political science at San Francisco State University and the author of Bring Me Men: Military Masculinity and the Benign Façade of American Empire. – Al Jazeera