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She the People
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Posted at 12:16 PM ET, 07/23/2012

Rape, sexual assult convictions for Louis Walker could signal deeper problem for Lackland Air Base

DALLAS – Overshadowed by the Colorado shooting massacre in recent days was another shocking story of violence directed at multiple victims.

Last weekend, Staff Sgt. Louis A. Walker, a Lackland Air Force Base instructor, was convicted of rape and sexual assault in connection with at least 10 female Air Force recruits. On Saturday, a military jury gave him a 20-year prison sentence.

Most disturbing, perhaps, is that Walker is one of six Lackland instructors charged in the brewing scandal. He was the first to stand trial. Twelve instructors were originally under investigation.

Sadly, that means it’s unlikely that Walker was a rogue predator, which is how we’d like to think of those who systematically target the vulnerable.

Five women testified at Walker’s court-martial about how their sense of safety and well-being has eroded since the attacks. They cited trouble sleeping, working and completing a tour of duty in Afghanistan with male colleagues.

Still, Walker asked for leniency in a statement before his sentencing.

“Members, I stand before you a convicted man. I know you have to punish me for the crimes I have committed,” he said before the jury. “The only thing I ask you for is that you consider my family.’’

He has two sons, ages 4 and 7.

The prosecutor, however, told the jury that Walker was “the consummate predator, who used the power the Air Force gave him to satisfy his own sexual desires,’’ according to reports.

The jury found that the boot camp instructor used his position to bully, coerce and overpower female trainees during a series of sexual assaults and rapes. There was no physical evidence in the case, only an overwhelming amount of testimony from women who said they’d been assaulted.

There will be more trials as the scandal unfolds at one of the country’s busiest military training centers. Lackland is the location for basic training for U.S. airmen. It has about 475 instructors for about 35,000 airmen. Of those, about one in five of the recruits is female, while 90 percent of the instructors are male.

At least 31 female trainees have lodged complaints in connection with the scandal.

The court trials are only part of the reckoning. Hard questions must be asked about the organizational culture within the Air Force and its training system.

As we saw recently with the scandal involving U.S. Secret Service agents in Columbia, widespread sexual indiscretions often signal a deeper, institutional problem.Obviously, the charges at Lackland are far more serious than those faced by Secret Service agents cavorting with prostitutes. 

The risk in Columbia was that agents with classified information about President Obama’s impending visit put themselves in compromised situations. The risk at Lackland is that female service members were in danger of being raped or sexually assaulted by the instructors who were supposed to train them.

Those trainees who stepped forward to file charges against their instructors for sexual assault (and who are still suffering the aftermath of the assaults) deserve a full airing of the issue.

Lori Stahl covers politics and culture in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.

By  |  12:16 PM ET, 07/23/2012

Tags:  Lackland, Air Force, rape, sexual assault, military culture, violence

 
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