In response to the widespread sexual abuse by Air Force training instructors at a San Antonio Base, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) has introduced bipartisan legislation to protect trainees from assault and sexual advances by instructors. H.R. 430, The Protect Our Military Trainees Act, cosponsored by Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV), requires the military justice system to acknowledge the power imbalance between trainer and trainee and strictly penalizes any instructor who engages in sexual acts with a trainee during the time of instruction and for 30 days afterward.
"Sexual predators do not belong in the U.S. military. They need to be prosecuted and dishonorably discharged. Training instructors who prey on recruits are criminals who must be kicked out of the armed services," said Speier upon introduction of the Protect Our Military Trainees Act.
At Lackland Air Force Base, investigators have so far identified 59 victims of rape, sexual abuse, harassment or misconduct by 32 instructors. Six instructors have been convicted of sexual assault or of misconduct which carries lesser penalties. In some cases, the defense argued that because the trainee consented to the sexual activity, no sexual assault had been committed.
"All sexual advances by a training instructor toward a trainee are indefensible because consent is impossible in this power dynamic. Trainees are taught from day one that nothing an MTI says ends with a question mark - recruits must obey every order given and every task demanded," said Speier.
During the January 23, 2013 House Armed Services Committee hearing about the widespread misconduct by instructors at Lackland, Congresswoman Speier engaged Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh in an exchange about consent.
Speier began her line of questioning by describing the young trainees she met at the base last fall. "They were 17, 18, 19 years of age. They were young, they were naïve, and they were earnest," she said before explaining that she has a daughter the same age as the trainees. "My daughter would no more have the ability to say no to an MTI than one of these trainees who are taught, "you do everything that the training instructor tells you.'"
"Can a trainee willingly have sex with her instructor?" Speier asked General Welsh. She quickly followed up by asking, "Do you agree or not agree that consent should not be part of this [equation]?"
Welsh responded that, "Someone who has that kind of relationship in an Air Force training program is unacceptable and should be kicked out of the military."
Congresswoman Speier first called for this hearing in June, 2012 after 6 training instructors were investigated for sexual misconduct with 19 female trainees. In July, she was joined by 77 colleagues and 15,000 advocates in her call for a Congressional investigation of the widespread sexual abuse at Lackland Air Force Base.
Retired Air Force Technical Sergeant Jennifer Norris, who testified at the hearing about her experience as a survivor of military sexual trauma and as a victim advocate, shared her story with the CBS Evening News for a segment entitled, "Pentagon Battling Military Rape Epidemic." Congresswoman Speier was also interviewed for the piece which aired last night and this morning.