Women trainers tackle harrassment

JIM FORSYTH
Last updated 13:22 15/11/2012

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The US Air Force said today that one quarter of its basic training instructors will be women following widespread sexual harassment and abuse of female recruits at a Texas base described by an official report as ‘‘a breakdown of good order and discipline’’.

The change came after months of disclosures of sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Force base in Texas.

In the report, Major General Margaret Woodward, Air Force director of safety programmes, described a flawed basic training structure that led to ‘‘the opportunity for abuse of power’’.

The report was released as the US military is mired in a sex scandal involving David Petraeus, a retired four-star Army general.

Petraeus resigned last week as CIA chief after revelations that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, a reserve officer in military intelligence.

The report made 47 recommendations including one, which the Air Force said it will apply, that would require one in four basic training instructors to be a woman.

At present, one instructor, usually a staff sergeant, oversees a training unit of some 22 recruits, men and women.

In future there would be four instructors overseeing two units, with at least one of them being a woman.

‘‘This will require a female target of 25 per cent of total (training instructors),’’ the report said.

About 22 per cent of the Air Force is female, but many of those women are in specialised technical positions.

INTEGRATED TRAINING TO STAY

Eleven instructors at Lackland have been charged with offences ranging from inappropriate behaviour to sexual assault.

Five have been convicted or pleaded guilty at courts-martial and have been sentenced to terms ranging from 30 days to 20 years in prison.

The others are in various stages of the military legal process.

The Air Force has said 48 women have come forward with what investigators consider credible stories of sexual misconduct.

The report drew mixed reactions from officials who have followed the unfolding scandal.

‘‘The reforms proposed will not fix the systemic cultural and legal biases that preclude justice for victims of military sexual assault,’’ said Nancy Parrish, who heads an advocacy group called Protect Our Defenders.

‘‘The military in general, and the Air Force in particular, still has not faced or dug deep enough to get to the heart of the problem.’’

The move to increase female instructors could be controversial because some women’s rights advocates pushed the military to address the scandal by segregating men and women in basic training.

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‘‘The team concluded that integrated training remains the best option for the Air Force,’’ said General Edward Rice, commander of Air Force Basic Training.

‘‘I support this finding, which is consistent with the principle of training the way we fight together as airmen.’’

The report also recommended shortening the length of basic training by a week to seven and a half weeks to reduce the opportunity for improper relationships to grow.

The Air Force said the length of basic training is under review, but a decision on that will come later.

Other recommendations included shortening the length of time a trainer can remain in that post to three years, establishing a ‘‘female mentor’’ position in basic training, eliminating closed-door counseling and prohibiting instructors from handling the cell phones of trainees.

‘‘Sexual attraction, power, and money are three of the most corruptive elements of the human condition, and two of these are present in the (training) environment,’’ Rice said.

‘‘If we do not take steps to address these corruptive elements persistently and positively, we will find ourselves in the same situation at some point down the road.’’

- Reuters

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