U.S. News

Army drill sergeants at Fort Benning, Ga. suspended in sex assault probe

A sign at the Benning Road Gate entrance to Fort Benning, Georgia. Courtesy U.S. Army/via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A number of U.S. Army drill sergeants at Fort Benning, Georgia, have been temporarily suspended from their duties following allegations of sexual misconduct with trainees, the Army base said on Wednesday.

Investigators looking into an initial sexual assault allegation by a female trainee against a drill sergeant at the fort uncovered other incidents of alleged sexual misconduct, prompting a wider investigation, the base said in a statement.

A spokesman declined to say how many drill sergeants had been suspended as part of the investigation, but the statement indicated it was more than one.

Cracking down on sexual assault has been a priority for several years in the U.S. military, which reported in May that anonymous surveys in 2016 found that 14,900 service members experience some kind of kind of sexual assault in 2016, from groping to rape. That was down from 20,300 in 2014, according to the surveys, which are conducted every two years.

At the same time, the number of victims actually willing to report incidents of sexual assault reached a record 6,172 cases in 2016. Officials see willingness of victims to come forward and report sexual assault as a positive sign that people believe their complaints will be dealt with seriously.

The sexual misconduct investigation at Fort Benning is being conducted by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command in cooperation with the base’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, the statement said.

“There is no place for sexual harassment or sexual assault in our Army,” it said. Counseling, legal and medical services had been made available to the trainees involved in the alleged incidents, it added.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Frances Kerry