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Lackland instructor acquitted of sex crime by military court

An instructor at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio was acquitted of unwanted sexual contact after a Texas military jury spent nearly five hours deliberating the case. The staff sergeant could have been sentenced to a prison term of over 40 years, if he had been convicted.

The sergeant is not the only base instructor who was charged with sexual abuse with subordinate recruits who take basic training at Lackland. Over one dozen instructors have been investigated for various sexual assault charges. Six of the men investigated were charged.

This summer, one staff member was convicted of sexual assault and rape and imprisoned for 20 years.

The acquittal in the latest military jury decision did not absolve the staff sergeant of other crimes for which he pleaded guilty. The instructor could still go prison for 14 years. The original charge of sexual assault was reduced to wrongful sexual contact after a judge ruled prosecutors failed to present enough evidence to warrant the more severe charge.

Prosecutors attempted to show sexual relations between the instructor and trainee were the result of pressure from an authority figure. Defense attorneys argued the trainee had flirted by text with the sergeant using endearing terms like "sweetheart," indicating the recruit — at least for a time — was interested in a relationship of some kind.

The San Antonio base graduates 35,000 Air Force basic trainees every year. About 20 percent of the recruits are female. Nearly all the instructors are male. The nationwide attention focused on the sex scandal forced the ouster of the top commander at Lackland.

Unwanted sexual advances, abuse and assault are crimes with severe punishments. Guilty verdicts in criminal courts are one form of justice. Victims of sexual abuse also have the right to seek compensation for harm in civil courts against sex offenders.

An employer or organization that encourages a hostile environment where sexual predators are free or encouraged to hurt victims may also be held accountable.

Source: foxnews.com, "Military trainer in Texas acquitted of sex assault," Sept. 12, 2012

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