The US Air Force is at the centre of a sex scandal after 31 female trainees were identified as victims of sexual misconduct, including rape.
The abuses allegedly took place at the hands of a group of older male instructors at the country's largest training base.
All of the allegations involve Lackland Air Base, in San Antonio, Texas, the training facility that every US Air Force trainee must attend. About 35,000 airmen a year pass through the base.
An investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct began in October last year after a woman came forward to complain that her friend had been a victim of sexual misconduct while at the base.
It widened in November when three instructors came forward with concerns about their colleagues' behaviour towards female recruits.
Six instructors have now been charged. In the most serious case, one officer, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, has been charged with 28 counts including one count of rape and several counts of aggravated sexual assault.
Five others have been charged with conducting or attempting to conduct improper sexual relationships with trainees.
In the US Air force it is considered a crime for an instructor to have any sexual relationship with a trainee, even if the trainee consents.
Three of the men have been charged with adultery, which is also considered a crime in the military. As well as the six who have been charged, six other instructors are under investigation.
Two of them are being are being investigated over allegations of sexual assault, while the others are being investigated over claims of inappropriate relationships with trainees "ranging from sexual contact to social media contact only". An air force source said the latter allegation amounted to contact via Facebook.
While the crimes range in their severity, collectively the charges and allegations paint a picture of widespread abuse of power by experienced military instructors towards young female trainees.
It has been described as the worst sex scandal in the US military since 1996 when 12 male soldiers were charged with abusing female recruits and trainees at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
It also comes on the heels of the scandal involving the Secret Service.
Eight agents were sacked after apparently taking prostitutes to their hotel rooms while in Columbia preparing for the arrival of President Barack Obama.
Speaking about the Lackland Air Base scandal at the Pentagon on Thursday, General Edward A. Rice Jr., the Air Force's commander of training and education, said: "We are leaving no stone unturned. I am being as aggressive as I can."
Nine of the 12 officers under investigation are in the same squadron – the 331st Training Squadron – meaning that a quarter of the instructors in that company are under investigation.
But Gen. Rice said he did not believe the problem was "endemic". "It is more localised, and we are doing a very intensive investigation on that squadron to find out what exactly happened and why," he said.
There are 475 training instructors at Lackland and Gen. Rice said: "No one is more angry and disappointed than they are that a relatively small number of their cadre has cast a shadow over the entire programme.
"We are all committed to doing everything possible to investigate those allegations, to take care of the victims, to hold the perpetrators accountable, and to fix any institutional problems that may have facilitated this completely unacceptable behaviour,"
One instructor, Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado, has already pleaded guilty to having an improper relationship with one trainee. He was sentenced to 90 days confinement and reduced in rank.
However after being offered immunity to testify against his colleagues, he revealed he had actually conducted improper relationships with 10 trainees.
On Thursday Staff Sgt Craig LeBlanc appeared at a military hearing over the allegations that he had relationships with two trainees. He was investigated after a fellow instructor heard him bragging that he had "just gotten laid" in a supply room.
It was also revealed that investigators considered charging LeBlanc with other offences in which his current girlfriend, with whom he lives, would be named the victim.
That looks unlikely given that she was not one of his trainees and she insists they did not have sex until after she graduated her basic training.----
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