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Lackland's instructor-on-rainbow sex crimes, told by one who lived the nightmare

Photo: Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

Chuck Kerr

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Colleen Bushnell

By the Defense Department's own count, some 19,000 active duty servicemen and women were raped or sexually assaulted in the military in 2010. The DoD estimates that only 13.5 percent of victims come forward; advocates say flaws in the military's system of handling rapes keep victims from reporting, fearing career-ending retaliation from their superiors. In one 2010 DoD survey of workplace and gender relations within the military, 82 percent of women and 90 percent of men who decided to report their assaults admitted they wouldn't do it again if given the choice.

While the Pentagon's latest annual report on sexual assault in the military released in April hints at the extent of the problem of military rape across the armed forces, experts and advocates say the data also confirms their greatest fear: that even though there's no indication military sex crimes have abated, the military's handling of sexual assault cases is getting worse.

In 2010, 1,025 actions were taken by commanders on grounds of sexual assault. That number dropped to 791 in 2011, according to the DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response report released in April. The number of court-martials fell from 529 in 2010 to 489 in 2011. Those convicted of sexual assault within the military fell 22 percent from 245 in 2010 to 191 in 2011.

Those DoD numbers show an even more alarming trend, says Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain and executive director of Service Women's Action Network, an advocacy group fighting to end military sexual assault and to increase diversity within the armed forces' ranks.

DoD policy, Bhagwati says, continues to allow for many accused sex offenders to resign instead of facing charges — so-called Resign in Lieu of Court-Martial, or RILO. In 2009 and 2010, according to DoD numbers, 10 percent of those accused of sexual assault resigned and escaped without facing court martial. In 2011, that number bumped up slightly to 10.5 percent.

But perhaps even more disturbing, Bhagwati says, is data showing one out of three sex offenders convicted by military trial wound up back in service after their punishment. "That should make your head spin," she said. "We shouldn't have to hear victims saying, 'Why is my rapist, my convicted rapist or assaulter, still serving?'"

In the spring of 2011, months before the Lackland scandal erupted, the Air Force, with little fanfare, released its own internal survey, conducted by Gallup, on sexual assault within its ranks. The results were stunning. One in five women said they'd been assaulted since joining the service; for men, the number was one in 20 (advocates insist that number fails to tell the full extent of male-on-male sexual assault in the military, which they believe is widely underreported.) The vast majority of assaults were by male airmen on female airmen. Nearly half the victims who responded said they failed to report the assault up the chain of command because they "did not want to cause trouble in their unit." Over half the assaults were rape, according to the survey, and 20 percent of victims said they were sodomized — what the military defines as nonconsensual oral or anal sex.

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