On Saturday, Sgt. Luis Walker was sentenced to 20 years in prison for counts including rape, adultery, and aggravated sexual assault in the first major case to be tried in military court from the sex abuse scandal that has rocked Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas.
The revelations at Lackland have awoken concerns about abuses in the military that haven’t made their way into the mainstream media since the 1990s. The reports of widespread abuse, coupled with the long history of crimes against women in the military, have several lawmakers pushing for a Congressional hearing about the incidents at the camp. On Tuesday, a human rights group launched a Twitter campaign that targets Buck McKeon — the chair of the House Armed Services committee — with the hashtag #AskBuck, in an attempt to persuade him to hold a hearing.
"The widespread sex abuse scandal at Lackland demands a Congressional investigation. We need to know how this behavior was permitted at Lackland for so long and by so many,” said California Congresswoman Jackie Speier in a statement Saturday.
Twelve instructors at Lackland, including Walker, are under investigation and at least 31 women have been identified as victims of crimes that apparently began in 2009. The probe began when a woman accused Walker of sexual abuse last fall. The charges against Walker were the most severe, and reveal he had inappropriate sexual contact with 10 female recruits between October 2010 and January 2011.
For Speier, Walker’s sentence was not enough. "The military jury confirmed what we already knew, Walker is a sexual predator who used his position in the military to rape and sexually assault young recruits at Lackland. But a sentence of 20 years in confinement is inadequate for a man who abused 10 victims – 2 years jail time per victim is not justice for the women betrayed by a military leader,” Speier said in the statement.
Both a criminal investigation within the military justice system as well as a policy review by a general are underway, but Speier wants action from the Hill, and started a petition asking for a Congressional hearing. As of Tuesday, her petition had garnered 77 signatures from members of Congress, and a petition started by Protect Our Defenders, the group that created the Twitter campaign, had more than 7,000 signatures as of Tuesday.
Speier has said that since scandals like Lackland keep reoccurring every decade — Tailhook in 1991 and then Aberdeen in 1996 — the military investigations that follow are obviously not fixing the problem.
So, she wants Congress to launch its own investigation to answer the questions she thinks will otherwise not be addressed in a system that favors the perpetrator. So far, the House Armed Services committee has made no move to organize a hearing.
“Walker’s court martial conviction is still the exception and not the rule,” she said in her statement.
She posed these questions when she spoke for the third time about Lackland on the House floor on July 19, the day that Walker’s court martial began: “In the last three years since Luis Walker started working at Lackland, roughly 21,000 female Airmen have cycled through basic training. Have they been interviewed by investigators to determine if they, too, had been raped and sexually assaulted at Lackland? How widespread is this epidemic? At Lackland out of the 31 identified victims, only one has reported the crime. Why are victims scared to come forward?,” she said on the floor. “Internal investigations will not get to the bottom of this.”