“I was diagnosed with a personality disorder for failing to adjust adequately to being raped.” —Jenny McClendon
What happened is this: One instructor has been convicted of rape and multiple cases of aggravated sexual assault of female trainees, and 16 other trainers have been charged or are under investigations for crimes ranging from aggravated sexual assault to improper sexual relationships with 42 female trainees.
That places Lackland atop an infamous list of military sexual-abuse scandals, including the Navy’s Tailhook convention in Las Vegas in 1991 (83 female and seven male victims of sexual assault by more than 100 Navy and Marine Corps aviation officers); the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1996 (12 Army officers charged with sexually assaulting female trainees); the Air Force Academy in 2003 (12 percent of female graduates reported having been victims of rape or attempted rape, and 70 percent said they had been sexually harassed); and the Marine Barracks in Washington in recent years, where the documentary The Invisible Warinterviewed five female Marines who reported having been raped (the Corps investigated and disciplined four of the women after they reported the rapes but punished none of the accused officers).
Two days after seeing The Invisible War, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directed commanders to elevate all sexual-assault investigations to a reviewing authority headed by a higher-ranking colonel. He also began creating “special-victim units” in each branch. It was a start.
But the most alarming aspect of the Lackland story is its predictability, because the very values Pendleton is trying to inculcate (obedience, self-sacrifice, stoicism in the face of deprivation) are the ones that predators exploit in these scandals. The Defense Department’s own data suggest that, far from representing an isolated incident, Lackland is just the latest outbreak of what Panetta has called a “silent epidemic” of sexual assault in the ranks. Based on the Pentagon’s most recent survey on the issue in 2010, the epidemic affects more than 19,000 victims each year.
Meanwhile, according to annual Veterans Affairs Department surveys, 20 percent of female veterans screen positive for “military sexual trauma,” as do 1 percent of male veterans—many of them victims of male-on-male rape. Cumulatively, the data suggest that hundreds of thousands of current and former members of the military have been raped, sexually assaulted, or subjected to “unwanted” sexual contact. In 2010 alone, the VA conducted nearly 700,000 free outpatient counseling sessions to veterans suffering from military sexual trauma.