July 23, 2012 — An Air Force instructor accused of raping and sexually assaulting 10 female trainees at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, was sentenced on Saturday to 20 years in prison, Reuters reports.
Staff Sgt. Luis Walker -- who on Friday was convicted by military jury on 28 charges of rape, aggravated sexual assault and aggravated sexual contact -- also was ordered to be reduced to lowest rank in the Air Force, to forfeit all pay and allowances, and be dishonorably discharged. He also must register as a sex offender, according to Reuters (Forsyth, Reuters, 7/21).
Walker is one of 12 Air Force instructors under investigation in connection with the sexual misconduct of 31 female trainees. Although six other instructors have been charged with counts including rape and adultery, Walker -- who faced the most serious charges of all those accused -- was the first to stand trial. About one in five Lackland recruits is female, while the base's instructors are 90% male, according to the AP/New York Times (AP/New York Times, 7/21).
Susan Pamerleau, a retired Air Force major general and former vice commander of the Air Force Basic Training Program, said Walker's sentence "sends a strong signal that this kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated" (Reuters, 7/21).
Highlighting Larger Issue
The sex abuse scandal is among the largest affecting the U.S. military in over a decade, according to the New York Times. The events have triggered both a criminal investigation and a major policy review by a two-star general at three other Air Force training bases. Officials say that recruits are being encouraged to report cases of sexual assault through a 24-hour tip line.
"We're not satisfied that this one unit is all there is," Maj. Gen. Leonard Patrick -- commander of the Second Air Force, which heads basic training, said in an interview. He added, "We wanted to assure ourselves through a disciplined approach that we've caught everything or everyone involved in this kind of behavior" (Dao, New York Times, 7/20).
The case also triggered calls for a congressional investigation. Last week, 77 members of Congress signed a letter sent by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) to House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), calling for a hearing into the matter (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/19).
Critics say that the military hierarchy in part encourages sexual assault. According to Pentagon data, 3,192 reported assaults occurred in 2011; however, the Pentagon estimates that assaults are underreported, likely placing the real number around 19,000 assaults annually. The statistics prompted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in April to call for new steps to combat military sexual assault (New York Times, 7/20).