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Air Force recruiter charged with rape as sex scandal expands

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - A male Air Force recruiting sergeant in the Houston area was charged on Friday with rape and other sexual misconduct with female applicants and a female recruiter, said officials with the Air Force, which is already dealing with a widespread sex-with-recruits scandal.

The scandal has centered on male training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, six of whom have been convicted on charges ranging from rape to attempting to engage in inappropriate sexual relationships with female recruits or trainees, and have been sentenced to terms ranging from 30 days to 20 years in prison.

Six other training instructors are awaiting trial on similar charges in what is the largest sex scandal in the U.S. military since the 1990s.

In the latest case, which does not involve training, Technical Sergeant Jaime Rodriguez of the Air Force recruiting station in Lake Jackson, Texas, is charged with several felonies, including indecent conduct, aggravated sexual contact, forcible sodomy and rape, officials said.

He is charged with improper sexual activity with 18 women, said Christa D'Andrea, chief of public affairs for the Air Force Recruiting Service. In some cases, Rodriguez is accused of inappropriate sexual contact and in other cases, he is accused of sending or requesting inappropriate photos, she said.

Rodriguez, who has been reassigned to a National Guard unit in East Texas pending court martial, is scheduled to appear in court at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio next week, she said. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, rape is potentially punishable by the death penalty.

"We rely on our recruiters not only to recruit our best and brightest, but our recruiters also mirror those expectations," D'Andrea said. "All of our recruiters have to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism."

She said there have been two other recent cases of recruiters being charged with sexual misconduct with Air Force applicants, but that this is the most serious recent case.

The allegations against Rodriguez show that fundamental changes are needed, said Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, which advocates against sexual assault in the military.

"This is yet another horrible example of the 'silent epidemic' and if the military keeps looking they will find thousands more," Parrish said.

Fifty-two current or former female Air Force members have come forward with what prosecutors consider to be credible reports of being victims of unprofessional conduct at the hands of their basic training sergeant.

In a report in November, an internal Pentagon investigation blamed the scandal on a "flawed basic training structure which led to the opportunity for the abuse of power" and made several recommendations, including adding more female training sergeants.

(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Richard Chang)

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