Posted: Sep 15, 2013 12:03 PM
Updated: Sep 15, 2013 12:03 PM
SAN ANTONIO (AP) Instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland won't shake their students' hands until the end of training. They're strictly forbidden from adding any trainees as Facebook friends.
Those changes are among the many new restrictions enacted in the wake of a massive sex scandal that involved two dozen instructors accused of preying on female recruits. Officials at Lackland say they're pushing a culture change to protect trainees and encourage them to report any issues, the San Antonio Express-News reported (http://bit.ly/18jxn1g ).
Since Col. Deborah Liddick was appointed to lead the base's training group one year ago, there have been no new cases against a Lackland instructor, the newspaper reported.
"I'm really proud of that," Liddick said. "A lot of good measures have been put in place, and I'm confident we have a safe training environment."
New rules require instructors and trainees to remain at least an arm's length apart. Beds have been removed from instructors' offices and a team keeps a log of all keys signed out. A camera system in the works will have enough server space to save footage for three years. Before, recordings were normally deleted after 20 to 30 days.
Base officials are also doing what they can to empower trainees to report abuse against higher-ranking superiors, a difficult in an institution that relies so deeply on hierarchy. It's particularly difficult in a training situation in which instructors deliberately break down trainees to build them up again.
Trainees now are told how and when to report a potential sexual assault, and they hear from Liddick soon afterward.
She warned one group recently about Facebook.
"If any of my (instructors) send a friend request to you, you need to hit the ignore button and then report that to your chain of command," Liddick told the group. "Don't let me down."
Stairwells have anonymous comment boxes Liddick says she reads every message in them and the base has also set up telephone hotlines.
Some of the complaints she's seen are minor, which she says is a good sign.
"If trainees are willing to report that a training instructor used profanity, then I'm sure they're going to tell us, 'Hey, my (instructor) touched me inappropriately or assaulted me,'" Liddick said.
Twenty-four instructors have been convicted of crimes from rape to unprofessional relationships with trainees. One trainer, Luis Walker, was convicted of assaulting 10 female trainees.
Some current recruits and their parents said they were aware of the scandal, but were reassured that the new training rules would protect their families.
"It was all about if she felt uncomfortable, don't be afraid to let somebody know," said Angie Fowler, whose 26-year-old daughter completed training in August.
Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com