The Air Force is one of the most elite branches of the United States Armed Forces. In June 2011, a cadet named Virginia Messick from the Lackland Air Force Base came forward to report abuse by her trainer, and numerous allegations of sexual assault and misconduct followed. Oxygen's latest episode of "Deadly Power" dives into the case and recounts how Messick exposed this abuse of power.
The Lackland base is located outside San Antonio, and more than 35,000 recruits go through eight-and-a-half weeks of training every year. The recruits are supervised by approximately 500 instructors, the vast majority of which are male.
Messick was the first victim to speak publicly about her attack at the hands of Sergeant Luis Walker. Messick said that she did not initially disclose her attack because her attacker was technically her direct supervisor and could derail her military career, according to The New York Times.
“How am I supposed to go about reporting something when the person I’m supposed to report to is the person who raped me?” Messick told The New York Times.
By the time the scandal unfolded, 62 cadets alleged sexual misconduct at the hands of more than 30 training instructors from 2009 to 2012. In 2012, Walker was convicted on 28 counts, including adultery, violating regulations and committing sexual crimes against female trainees, as The New York Times reported. At least 11 other instructors were under investigation at the time. One pleaded guilty while four others were charged and facing courts-martial.
However, not all convictions stuck. Some were thrown out, while others were overturned. Walker, who was sentenced to 20 years, was found dead of an apparent suicide in 2014 while behind bars.
Despite the high-profile scandal, sexual assault, misconduct and a code of silence appear to be issues in the armed forces. The military found an estimated 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact annually, but only 3,300 reports were filed, as MSNBC shared in 2014.
To learn more about the case, watch "Deadly Power" on Oxygen.