Anti-war advocates aren’t surprised by shocking abuse charges

LOS ANGELES ( – Prosecutors have set a $1 million bail for a U.S. Marine charged with pimping, kidnapping, and intending to rape a 14-year-old girl.

Reports indicate that Staff Sgt. Bryan Damone Cunningham, of San Pedro, California was previously honored three times for good conduct.


Military watch groups say the incident presents an opportunity to shed light on illegal recruitment methods, primarily targeting minors.

According to reports, after arranging the plot online, the recruiter drove 18-year-old Justin Willard and 19-year-old Homer Daskalakis to Hemet, Calif., to have sex with the girl. Afterward, he attempted to take her from the southeast location to Los Angeles.

Police discovered the plot when they stopped the car, which was being driven erratically, reports said.

“Unfortunately it doesn’t surprise me because we do hear of incidences of when minor girls have been receiving a call from their recruiter, being sexually assaulted, taken from their homes and all kinds of situations. We’re deeply concerned and there have been numerous reports of underage assaults by military recruiters. This is a serious problem and this needs to be addressed,” said Arlene Inouye, founder of the Coalition for Alternatives to Militarism in Our Schools.

She recalled a case in 2008 where a 17-year-old was taken from her home by a recruiter. According to Ms. Inouye, the minor wanted to enlist in the military, though her parents objected. The girl wrote a runaway letter and told her parents she was going to boot camp the next day. The recruiter picked her up and took her to his home, said Ms. Inouye.

Her group was called for assistance and Ms. Inouye said she doesn’t know if the girl was raped, but she was given alcohol. Although the minor willingly chose to leave home, Ms. Inouye said the larger issue is the recruiter’s movement of a person still under parental authority.

“The military should obey the optional protocol established by the UN and agreed to by the U.S. that says young minors should not be recruited into the military period. I think it’s outrageous that military recruiters are able to have contact with students, maybe they make the first contact at school and then it continues off campus. I know that they invite them to have lunch or go to a movie … our minors are not in a position to make these kinds of life and death decisions without having the facts. They should not be marketed to and wined and dined, which is what these recruiters do … that is totally irresponsible for us as a nation and inhumane,” she said.

Maricela Guzman, a Navy veteran and peace education coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, also worked to help the 17-year-old’s family get her back. The parents, who were non-English speaking, actually signed some documents, but the recruiters lied to them about the paperwork and never gave them copies, she said.

When the mother began asking about the disappearance of her daughter, the recruiters told her that if they did have her, they couldn’t tell her, Ms. Guzman continued.

After the family contacted a lawyer, who threatened to take further action, the recruiter’s office produced the girl, Ms. Guzman said.

“One of the things about recruiters is they have access to school, the community, and people don’t know who to go to for accountability with recruiters. Even the school systems in L.A. … There’s no policy set when it comes to these adults who are working with youth, who are underage, without sometimes having permission with their parents to have that discussion with them about the military,” she said.

A lot of stories go untold because victims remain silent, said Ms. Guzman. “We see gender as very skewed even when it comes to these kinds of cases, because we do see that this is happening to young women, but overall there’s a policy set with recruiters who are giving misinformation to youth, no matter what their sex, gender or age.”

Ms. Guzman said nothing promised by recruiters is binding. “I was a service member and my recruiters made all these promises to me. I sent my military contract when I went to boot camp and everything my recruiter said, they were supposed to help me get to the next rank, was a lie,” she said.

She and her family fought for a year-and-a-half and eventually the military increased her rank and paid her retroactively.

Ms. Inouye said that more courting of minors happens inside the Omni Experience Center in the Franklin Mills Malls in Philadelphia. The center is the size of three football fields, filled with video games, Hummer rides, simulated combat and virtual rifles, she said. The center opened last August but plans are to expand across the nation if it is successful in recruiting, Ms. Inouye said.

“It’s going the other direction. Instead of protecting our youth … we’re seducing them and going younger and younger. These are 12-13-year-olds so the direction is moving towards the younger ages,” she said.

Ms. Guzman, who told The Final Call she was raped in boot camp, argued that along with little accountability is a military culture plagued by sexism and misogyny. The latest case is critical because it opens a larger discussion of society’s use of sex as a tool and connections to the military, she said.