What has been going on at Lackland Air Force Base?

The site of the Air Force’s basic training has been wrapped in scandal since it emerged that twelve instructors are under investigation for inappropriate sexual conduct with female recruits. So far, 31 women have come forward to say they were victimized. Karisa King and Sig Christenson reported on the allegations for the San Antonio Express-News.

“The charges have roiled the Air Force and raised alarms about how pervasive the misconduct might be,” King and Christenson wrote. “Six instructors have been charged so far. Testimony last week provided an indication that the cases will hinge on the question of how much power the instructors wielded over their trainees or whether the young women consented — or were even capable of doing so under the circumstance.”

A full quarter of the instructors from the 331st Training Squadron are under investigation, the AP reported. Only 22 percent of Air Force trainees are female.

The inappropriate conduct alleged covers a wide range of behaviors, from rape to “unprofessional relationships through social media.”

Last week, one woman testified at a preliminary hearing that she and another recruit were told to come into a supply room where two staff sergeants, Kwinton Estacio and Craig LeBlanc, were waiting. King and
Christenson recounted her testimony:

“I felt the air automatically get thicker. I just kind of froze,” one of the women testified last week at a preliminary hearing for LeBlanc. “As soon as I was in that situation, I knew I didn’t want to be there.”

As the recruits stood shoulder to shoulder, the woman said LeBlanc patted his knee and told her to come sit in his lap. He was eating a lollipop, and he asked her to try it.

She did. And when he kissed her and then had sex with her, she complied because she felt she had no choice, she said.

“What else was I supposed to do in that situation?” she asked.

The story is one about power. Boot camp—and the armed forces in general—rely on chain of command and discipline. A misstep, such as not listening one’s superior, could mean “pushups, reprimands, a repeat of boot camp or even a career-ending discharge,” according to the Express-News.

According to the Associated Press, the ballooning case stems from a “single complaint” filed last year. “It has snowballed into potentially the worst sex scandal in the U.S. military since 1996, when 12 male soldiers were charged with abusing female recruits and trainees at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland,” the AP reported.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta weighed in on the scandal at a June 29 press briefing, dubbing the young recruits “very vulnerable,” according to Fox News “I take sexual assault allegations very seriously,” he said. “We have to maintain strict discipline.  We have put steps together on how to deal with this.”