THE US Air Force is at the centre of a sex scandal after 31 female trainees were identified as victims of sexual misconduct, including rape.
The abuses allegedly took place at the hands of a group of older male instructors at the country's largest training base.
All of the allegations involve Lackland Air Base, in San Antonio, Texas, the training facility that every US Air Force trainee must attend. About 35,000 airmen a year pass through there.
An investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct began in October last year after a woman came forward to complain that her friend had been a victim of sexual misconduct.
It widened in November when three instructors came forward with concerns about their colleagues' behaviour towards female recruits.
Six instructors have now been charged. In the most serious case, one officer, Staff Sgt Luis Walker, has been charged with 28 counts, including one count of rape and several counts of aggravated sexual assault.
Five others have been charged with conducting or attempting to conduct improper sexual relationships with trainees. In the US Air Force it is considered a crime for an instructor to have any sexual relationship with a trainee, even if the trainee consents.
Three of the men have been charged with adultery, which is also considered a crime in the military. As well as the six who have been charged, six other instructors are under investigation.
Two of them are being investigated over allegations of sexual assault, while the others are being investigated over claims of inappropriate relationships with trainees "ranging from sexual contact to social media contact only".
While the crimes range in their severity, collectively the charges and allegations paint a picture of widespread abuse of power by experienced military instructors towards young female trainees.
It has been described as the worst sex scandal in the US military since 1996 when 12 male soldiers were charged with abusing female recruits and trainees at the army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
It also comes on the heels of the scandal involving the Secret Service. Eight agents were sacked after apparently taking prostitutes to their hotel rooms while in Colombia preparing for the arrival of President Barack Obama.
Speaking about the scandal, General Edward A Rice Jr, the air force's commander of training and education, said he did not believe that the problem was "endemic".
But he added: "We are leaving no stone unturned. I am being as aggressive as I can." (© Daily Telegraph, London)