WASHINGTON — Military recruiters across the country have been caught in a string of sex-crime scandals over the past year, exposing another long-standing problem for the Defense Department as it struggles with a crisis of sexual assault in the ranks.
In Alaska, law enforcement officials are fuming after a military jury this month convicted a Marine Corps recruiter of first-degree sexual assault in the rape of a 23-year-old female civilian, but did not sentence him to prison. In Texas, an Air Force recruiter will go on trial next month on charges of rape, forcible sodomy and other crimes involving 18 young women he tried to enlist over a three-year period. Air Force officials have described the case as perhaps the worst involving one of its recruiters.
In Maryland, Army officials are still puzzling over a murder-suicide in April, when a staff sergeant, Adam Arndt, killed himself after he fatally shot Michelle Miller, a 17-year-old Germantown, Md., girl whom he had been recruiting for the Army Reserves. Officials suspect the two were romantically involved, something expressly forbidden by military rules.
Leaders of the armed services said they place enormous emphasis on ethical behavior and professional conduct when selecting and training recruiters, who are a fixture in high schools everywhere and critical to the nation's all-volunteer military. Only a tiny percentage of recruiters engage in sexual misconduct, officials said, and there is no tolerance for those who do.
The extent of the problem is hard to ascertain because the Defense Department does not keep figures on recruiters accused of sex crimes. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps track incidents separately, but there is no uniform standard, which makes comparisons difficult.
In most cases, the victims are teenagers or young adults who have expressed an interest in a military career but have not yet enlisted. As a result, they are excluded from Pentagon surveys that show an alarming rise in the number of active-duty military personnel who say they have been sexually assaulted.
In several cases over the past year, recruiters have been charged or convicted of having sex with underage girls whom they were trying to recruit, despite strict rules against fraternization or even spending time alone with high-school-age youths.