More than 20 instructors at the U.S. Army's Fort Sill are under investigation for sexual assault following allegations raised by a female trainee at the Oklahoma installation, according to reports.
The Army has sent specialized Criminal Investigation Division personnel and attorneys to aid the investigation, and members of the training cadre have been suspended pending the outcome, according to a news release from the base public affairs office.
"The thought of sexual assault, something like this, happening in our Army here at Fort Sill deeply saddens me," Fort Sill commander Maj. Gen. Ken Kamper told reporters Thursday at a news briefing that revealed the investigation, reports CBS News. "Every single soldier deserves to be treated with dignity and respect."
But he would not address where the alleged assault occurred or how many were involved.
"The way we are characterizing it is 'cadre members.' I will leave it at that," he said, reports The Army Times. "That means more than one."
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The Intercept reported that 22 service members were under investigation. The Army Times, citing a person familiar with the incident, reported more than 20 people were under investigation.
"I heard the term 'sex ring' thrown around, which is not one you love to hear," a military official with knowledge of the investigation, but who was not authorized to speak publicly about it, told the outlet.
Kamper said the investigation was launched within hours after the trainee reported the incident March 27.
"What's important is we've taken immediate action with any cadre member that has been named and possibly involved in this allegation," he said.
"We've removed them from their normal duties. They've been suspended," he said. "And with that, we will conduct a full and thorough investigation. We will pursue the facts wherever they lead us and we'll take any and all appropriate action as the investigation concludes."
Defense Department statistics cited by The Intercept show that reports of sexual assault in the military rose 38 percent from 2016 to 2018 — a year in which more than 20,000 service members reported being sexually assaulted — and by 10 percent between 2018 and 2019.
"I have had experience with sexual assault allegations and cases," Kamper said, reports Army Times. "Not very often do we see the characterization of being assault by cadre members. That's the significance here."
The female trainee was safe and had been assigned a special victims' counsel after meeting with base leaders, he said.
A Fort Sill spokesperson told PEOPLE on Tuesday that no additional comment was forthcoming.
"We take these allegations with the utmost seriousness and will continue to take all actions to ensure the safety of the trainee," said the news release issued Thursday by base public affairs.
"Sexual assault will not be tolerated," it said. "It tears at the fabric of our community. We will provide further updates as we are able, while protecting the integrity of the ongoing criminal investigation and the rights of all involved."
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