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Members of 109th Airlift Wing under investigation for sexual assault
SCOTIA -- A retired officer with New York’s 109th Airlift Wing claims sexual offenders were promoted instead of punished in a letter to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt). Ret. Lt. Col. Sharon Dwyer Stepp claimed she was sexually assaulted three times during her 37 years of service, which included four years as the coordinator of the 109th Airlift Wing’s sexual assault prevention program.
Col. Richard Goldenberg, spokesperson for New York's Division of Military and Naval Affairs, was unaware of Stepp’s allegations in the letter, but said an internally-ordered investigation is underway after allegations involving officers was made.
“We can't comment on specific allegations made about something from 2010. What we are looking at is current events in the organization and we've brought in a set of outside eyes to look at that. Just as any organization that uncovers deficiency we're going to figure out what went wrong and take steps to prevent it,” said Goldenberg. “It's the trust and confidence that our airmen have in their chain of command. That's the bond that makes the National Guard strong, it’s that we know each other, we serve with each other for many years and those bonds are important and anything that undermines those bonds is something that we’re going to address right away.”
Stepp claimed in the past, commanders swept reports of sexual abuse under the rug. Meanwhile a report from The Pentagon estimates sexual assaults are on the rise in the military.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is working to overhaul the way allegations of sexual abuse are handled by taking investigations out of the chain of command.
“Lt. Col. Stepp's remarks are consistent with what we have heard over and over again from the victims, the chain of command is failing victims of sexual abuse,” said Gillibrand in an emailed statement. “The chain of command has had decades to solve this problem and failed. We have heard the words ‘zero tolerance’ for over two decades. Enough is enough. This is a systemic crisis in our military, and to reverse it, we must embrace the systemic reform required to increase accountability, objectivity and trust in the military justice system by having trained legal military professionals handle serious crimes from the beginning.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Leahy’s office said Leahy and Stepp spoke about her letter and will take a further look at the allegations.