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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

Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, has since called for a congressional inquiry into the Lackland case just as was done for Aberdeen in the mid 1990s.

"What is happening at Lackland Air Force Base is no different than what happened at Aberdeen Proving Ground 15 years ago," she said in House floor speech in late June. "After that scandal, we heard assurances of how seriously the crimes were taken and how we're going to get to the bottom of this problem. Yet clearly the military is unable to police itself on matters of rape and sexual assault.

"I called for a hearing into the Lackland scandal because we need to know once and for all why instructors have been permitted to abuse power so freely and we need to know from the top that the phrase 'zero tolerance' for sexual assault in the military is a fact, not a talking point."

Speier last year introduced the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act, which would take reporting and investigation of sexual assaults outside of the chain of command and rely instead on an independent office consisting of civilian and military experts to hear those cases. Advocates say the measure's crucial to ensure cases aren't covered up or ignored by command.

Advocates and lawmakers should use Lackland to help push forward such changes, insists Parrish.

"The question is whether Lackland will be another footnote in history or whether public outcry will effectively put an end to this monstrous epidemic."

Bushnell's life unraveled after the assaults at Lackland. She's since moved back to upstate New York and has started to find other victims of military sexual assault over the web and through support groups. "I've met so many other women who have had equally horrible experiences," she said. "I used to think maybe it was just me, that it was uncommon. It isn't. It's pervasive, and it's amazing to me that it's been allowed to go on for this long."

Working with Protect Our Defenders, Bushnell's now an advocate for victims of military sexual assault. Starting July 14, she and five other veterans plan to cycle across the country, covering more than 4,000 miles over the course of 90 days, visiting 11 military bases to speak on rape in the military.

With a mix of both regret and relief, she says, "We won't be visiting San Antonio."

Bushnell says she's riding in memory of U.S. Army Private First Class LaVena Johnson, 19, whose 2005 death the military was ruled a suicide. An autopsy and reports from private investigators later cast doubt on Johnson's death, suggesting she suffered major physical injuries before her death consistent with sexual assault.

"I'm fighting now," Bushnell says. "Lackland took everything from me except for my life. For some reason God chose to keep me here."

Bushnell says she continues to closely watch the Lackland scandal. "The military, the Air Force, is excellent at so many things, but I think it's very hard for them to accept that sexual assault is a problem that's overtaking them," she says. Bushnell's afraid the Air Force will sweep up at Lackland, and maybe punish some trainers, but deny what she considers a greater systemic problem. "I'm going to keep speaking out to make sure they can't deny it." •

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