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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

"Recruits don't know how to say no, they're sort of stripped of their ability to say no," said SWAN's Bhagwati.

And in a sign of the silence shrouding the Lackland cases, both women initially lied to investigators, denying anything happened. They later said Estacio and LeBlanc had told them to lie. They complied, fearing telling the truth would spark retaliation and ruin their military careers.

"Keep it to yourself," Estacio told one of the women as she left the supply room that night, she testified.

"The bottom line is one (trainer) did come forward. Without him having done that we wouldn't know about three MTIs and the alleged misconduct of those MTIs," Kenny said of Staff Sgt. Christopher Beck, who late last year reported to base authorities that he'd had conversations with LeBlanc in which LeBlanc had bragged about having sex with a female recruit. He lost sleep, and it weighed on his conscience, he testified at a evidentiary hearing in June. He waited about a month to report LeBlanc.

Kenny pointed to Beck's testimony, saying, "They're a self-policing force, in a sense. It's hard to tell on somebody that's your friend, but we're finding they're a self-policing force."

Maybe. Maybe not. There's another takeaway from Beck's tale: after reporting the misconduct, he testified the other trainers ignored and ostracized him. "We see very few people do the right thing," said Bhagwati. "There's this strong wall of silence, of denial, and unfortunately what develops often is this whistle-blowing-type situation," she said.

"The unfolding scandal at Lackland is shining a light on sexual abuse in all the armed forces," says Nancy Parrish, founder of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group working to combat sexual assault in the military. "This is a growing crisis. Lackland's just the most recent signal."

In April, Protect Our Defenders partnered with famed civil rights attorney Susan Burke to sue the former superintendents of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy, alleging the academies failed to prosecute cadets and midshipmen who raped fellow students, saying the assaults were indicative of a system-wide refusal to address rapes at the academies.

They filed the case on behalf of former West Point cadet Karley Marquet, who they say was raped in 2011 and punished by her superiors when she came forward to the point that she resigned — they claim she was forced to take out the trash from her rapist's room on a daily basis and then assigned to do "walking tours" with him. The other victim, former Naval Academy Midshipman Anne Kenzior, was raped twice by classmates, then encouraged by her academy advisor to keep the assaults a secret, the lawsuit alleges.

Parrish insists Lackland's emerging scandal similarly points to a systemic problem within military training. The number of instructors investigated for having sexual relationships with trainees at Lackland mirrors one of the military's most notorious sex scandals, that of the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, which brought forward 50 women making sexual abuse charges, including 26 allegations of rape. At the time, the scandal dragged up questions of the relationship between trainer and trainee, and worries over whether such relationships are fraught with misuse and abuse of power.

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