Fort Benning drill sergeants suspended for alleged sexual misconduct

The Army has suspended an undisclosed number of drill sergeants at Fort Benning in Georgia amid allegations of sexual misconduct involving trainees.

The scandal came to light after one female trainee alleged she was sexually assaulted by a drill sergeant, the base said in a statement.

"Initial review of the incident revealed indications of additional allegations of sexual misconduct involving trainees and drill sergeants," the Army said.

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PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine Recruit Haley Evans from St Louis, Missouri stands in formation during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: A drill instructor shouts instructions at her Marine recruits during training in boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Lauren Hillyer of Burlington, Iowa struggles to climb an obstacle on the Confidence Course during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Samantha Wolosin of West Long Branch, New Jersey practices martial arts during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Bibria Pagen Velazquez of Ponce, Puerto Rico practices martial arts during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: A Marine recruit loses her grip and falls while trying to navigate an obstacle on the Confidence Course during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Samantha Wolosin of West Long Branch, New Jersey practices martial arts during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Erin Snider of Elizabeth, Kentucky navigates an obstacle on the Confidence Course during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Trenia Tully of Charlotte, Michigan navigates an obstacle on the Confidence Course during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits stand in formation during pugil stick training in boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits listen to instructions before learning to fight with pugil sticks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits respond to their drill instructor as they are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Drill Instructor SSgt. Jennifer Garza disciplines her Marine recruits with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits are disciplined with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits get into formation following hand-to-hand combat training during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Drill Instructor Sgt. Adrienne Cambridge instructs her Marine recruits during a training exercise at boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 26: Female Marine recruits stand in line before getting lunch in the chow hall during boot camp on February 26, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 26: Female Marine recruits stand in line while they wait for a dental examination on their first full day of boot camp on February 26, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 26: Female Marine recruits stand in line before getting lunch in the chow hall during boot camp on February 26, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Women army recruits receive instruction during basic combat training at Fort Jackson June 15, 2006 at Fort Jackson in Columbia, SC.
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruits stand in formation following hand-to-hand combat training during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Drill Instructor Sgt. Chasitie Chambers from Bear, Delaware speaks to her female Marine recruits during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Marine recruit Bibria Pagen Velazquez of Ponce, Puerto Rico practices martial arts during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Female Marine recruit Natasha Rodenbaugh responds to a command during hand-to-hand combat training in boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 25: Marine recruit Vanessa Camacho Monjaraz from Gardena, California fires on the rifle range during boot camp February 25, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 25: Marine recruit Angela Nowak of Midland, Michigan fires on the rifle range during boot camp February 25, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 26: Drill Instructor Sgt. Chasitie Chambers from Bear, Delaware speaks to her female Marine recruits in the chow hall during boot camp February 26, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
PARRIS ISLAND, SC - FEBRUARY 27: Drill Instructor SSgt. Jennifer Garza disciplines her Marine recruits with some unscheduled physical training in the sand pit outside their barracks during boot camp February 27, 2013 at MCRD Parris Island, South Carolina. Female enlisted Marines have gone through recruit training at the base since 1949. About 11 percent of female recruits who arrive at the boot camp fail to complete the training, which can be physically and mentally demanding. On January 24, 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded an order, which had been in place since 1994, that restricted women from being attached to ground combat units. About six percent of enlisted Marines are female. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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"We take these allegations very seriously, and we will ensure a full and thorough investigation of the facts."

The accused were suspended from drill sergeant duties and will have no contact with trainees until the investigation is over. The trainees are being offered counseling, legal assistance and medical services.

"There is no place for sexual harassment or sexual assault in our Army," the statement said. "Our Army remains committed to maintaining a values-based climate, intolerant of these acts, and to respond appropriately when accusations are made."

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Retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, said the announcement was no surprise in light of previous cases: a dozen drill instructors charged with sex crimes at Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1996 and 17 instructors accused of offenses at Lackland Air Force Base in 2011.

"The military has had a long history of issues with trainers sleeping with trainees, whether it's consensual or without their consent," Christensen said.

"Trainees are typically going to be very young and they'll be new to the military. They'll see drill sergeants as being god-like. Their entire lives are in these drill sergeants' hands. And the idea that you can have consensual sex in that situation is ridiculous."

Related: Navy, Marines Ban Nude Photo Sharing Without Consent

The fact that some of the trainees apparently did not reveal alleged misconduct or abuse until investigators began looking into the initial accuser's complaint underscores low reporting rates in the armed services, Christensen said.

Trainees, in particular, would be reluctant to put their reputations and nascent military careers on the line, he said.

"They're very isolated. Their day-to-day activities are controlled by these drill instructors. It's not an environment very conducive to stepping up and saying, 'I'm being abused,'" he said.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D.-N.Y., told NBC News in an email that the Fort Benning investigation shows that the Pentagon hasn't lived up to its promises to crack down on sexual assault.

"It is clear that even after years of reform, sexual assault remains a pervasive problem that puts our troops at risk and undermines our military readiness," she said.

"If we want to end the scourge of sexual assault in the military once and for all, we must professionalize and modernize the military justice system to allow independent military prosecutors to go after and hold these sexual predators accountable. The chain of command has continued to fail service members on this issue."

The U.S. military received a record number of sexual assault reports in 2016 — 6,172 cases compared to 6,082 the previous year and 3,604 cases in 2012 — although experts say many more go unreported.

Anonymous Pentagon surveys that include unreported incidents found 14,900 service members experienced some kind of sexual assault in 2016, down from 20,300 in the previous survey conducted in 2014.

The Pentagon said the statistics were an "indicator of a continued trust in our response and support systems," but critics say the rate is alarming.

Related: Sexual Assaults Increased at Two of the Three Military Academies

Christensen said another disappointing figure is the number of convictions: 124 out of 4,794 investigated in 2016.

"Odds are, if you are a sex offender in the military, you are not going to be held accountable," Christensen said.

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