WASHINGTON – Likening sexual assault in the Air Forces ranks to a cancer, the services top officer resolved Wednesday to tackle the problem by screening personnel more carefully and putting an end to bad behaviors like binge drinking that can lead to misconduct.
But Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, underscored the challenge by telling a House oversight committee that the service recorded a disturbing number of reports of sexual assault last year even as it worked to curb misconduct in the wake of a sex scandal at its training headquarters in Texas.
Dozens of young female recruits and airmen at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio were victimized by their instructors who sexually harassed, improperly touched or raped them.
Most difficult, Welsh said, is transforming a culture in which victims are reluctant to report what happened out of guilt, shame or fear theyll face retaliation or wont be believed.
Why, on what was undoubtedly the worst day of a victims life, did they not turn to us for help? Welsh said during testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
We are missing something fundamental in the human-to-human interaction that will allow them to feel safe enough to come to us and report.