Sexual abuse within the US Air Force is a "cancer" that the service is committed to eradicating, the Air Force's top officer said at the first congressional hearing into a sex scandal at a training headquarters in Texas.
"I will never stop attacking this problem," General Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee.
But underscoring the challenge the Air Force faces, Gen Welsh said the service recorded a disturbing number of reports of sexual assault last year. The preliminary figures show there were 796 reports of cases, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape.
The 2012 figure would be a nearly 30pc increase from 2011, when 614 cases were reported. The number could be much greater, Gen Welsh said, because many cases are never reported.
"Calling these numbers unacceptable does not do the victims justice," Gen Welsh said. "The truth is, these numbers are appalling."
The scandal at Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio saw instructors preying on young female recruits.