In Texas, an Air Force recruiter will face a military court next month on charges of rape, forcible sodomy and other crimes involving 18 young women he tried to enlist over a three-year period. Air Force officials have described the case as perhaps the worst involving one of its recruiters.
In Maryland, Army officials are puzzling over a murder-suicide last month, when a staff sergeant, Adam Arndt, killed himself after he fatally shot Michelle Miller, a 17-year-old Germantown girl whom he had been recruiting for the Army Reserve. Officials suspect the two were romantically involved, something expressly forbidden by military rules.
Leaders of the armed services said they place enormous emphasis on ethical behavior and professional conduct when selecting and training recruiters, who are a fixture in high schools everywhere and critical to the nation’s all-volunteer military. Only a tiny percentage of recruiters engage in sexual misconduct, officials said, and there is no tolerance for those who do.
The extent of the problem is hard to ascertain because the Defense Department does not keep figures on recruiters accused of sex crimes. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps track incidents separately, but there is no uniform standard, which makes statistical comparisons difficult.
In most cases, the victims are teenagers or young adults who have expressed an interest in a military career but have not yet enlisted. As a result, they are excluded from Pentagon surveys that show an alarming rise in the number of active-duty military personnel who say they have been sexually assaulted.
“Anecdotally, we absolutely hear that this is a problem,” said Anu Bhagwati, a former Marine captain who is executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network, an advocacy group. “There certainly is a power dynamic there that makes it a target-rich environment for a predator.”
In response to an outcry from the public, lawmakers and the White House, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week announced several initiatives to prevent sexual abuse and impose accountability for commanders who do not take the problem seriously. Hagel included a directive to “improve the effectiveness” of sexual-assault prevention and response programs in the armed services’ recruiting commands, though the Pentagon did not provide details.
“The secretary has made it clear that we will spare no effort to rid our military of sexual abuse,” said George Little, the Pentagon press secretary. “The fact that there have been problems of sexual abuse during the recruiting process is simply intolerable.”