By Juana Summers
Rep. Loretta Sanchez offered a scathing indictment of the Pentagon's response to the sex abuse scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, comparing it to the abuse cases in the Roman Catholic Church.
"People need to realize that whether it's rape or sexual assault actually, that that is a crime," the California Democrat said Wednesday when asked to outline the changes she'd make to prevent what she has previously described as an epidemic of sexual assault in the military. "You do not move the guy to some other unit such as the Catholic Church did. That is incorrect."
Sanchez's comments came during POLITICO Pro's P2012 Policy and Politics Defense luncheon. Asked if she believed the Air Force had adequately responded to sex abuses at Lackland, the Air Force's only basic training school, Sanchez said flatly, "Certainly not."
"The response is not enough. There needs to be more," she said.
Sanchez, a member of the House Armed Services Committee — along with Democratic Reps. Susan Davis and Jackie Speier, both also of California — traveled earlier this year to Lackland to meet with victims of the scandal.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sanchez's accusations. But in November, the Air Force released its report on the Lackland Air Force base scandal, finding that nearly 50 female students were the victims of sexual assault or abuse by at least 23 instructors.
Sanchez said the military's policy of zero tolerance for sexual assault — one that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has touted — must be strengthened and be more than just a repeated platitude.
"When we say zero tolerance, we need to mean that, which means our prosecutions need to get better, our way of getting evidence has to be better and we certainly have to move out the type of things that were happening in Lackland," Sanchez said. "You cannot have 10 years of grooming women and moving them around between people, men, in this case, eight to 10 people who were there for a long time without anybody realizing what's going on."
According to the Department of Defense, as many as one in three servicewomen have reported having been sexually assaulted. In 2010, according to a DoD report, there were 19,000 assaults.
The sex abuse scandal at Lackland is one of the largest sex scandals in the U.S. military's recent history. In 1996, a dozen male soldiers were charged with abusing several dozen women at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. In 1991, more than 80 women — some in the Navy — reported being harassed or assaulted during several days of drunken behavior at the annual convention of the Tailhook Association in Las Vegas.
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