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House Committee To Investigate Air Force Sexual Assault Scandal

House Committee To Investigate Air Force Sexual Assault Scandal

September 14, 2012 — Facing mounting pressure from advocates and lawmakers, the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday announced it will hold a hearing on reports of sexual assaults at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, the San Antonio Express-News reports (Powell, San Antonio Express-News, 9/13). Seventeen instructors at the base are under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct with Air Force trainees (Christenson/King, San Antonio Express-News, 9/13).

The sex abuse scandal is among the largest affecting the U.S. military in over a decade. 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 (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/23). As of Tuesday, 39 individuals have been identified as victims of the abuse, the Air Force said.

Claude Chafin, a spokesperson for committee Chair Howard McKeon (R-Calif.), said a public hearing will be scheduled after members meet privately with Air Force officials next week for an update on the investigation and prosecutions. Chafin said the hearing will be held at an "appropriate" time after prosecutions are completed.

According to the Express-News, the announcement of the hearing comes after McKeon made an unannounced visit to Lackland in recent days.

House Armed Services Committee member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) criticized McKeon's decision to delay the hearing until after prosecutions are complete. She noted that there have been "plenty of cases" where Congress held hearings while cases were ongoing (San Antonio Express-News, 9/13).

Four Trials Completed

Since the scandal erupted late last year, four trials have taken place at the base. The most recent trial concluded on Wednesday with the sentencing of Staff Sgt. Kwinton Estacio, who was sentenced by a jury to 12 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to having sex with a recruit under his command. Estacio also had his rank reduced to airman and was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct.

Earlier this summer, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker was sentenced to 20 years in jail for raping one trainee and having sexual contact with nine others. Another trainer received a three-month sentence, while the fourth was given a 30-day sentence (San Antonio Express-News, 9/13).