Sexual Assault Prevention Summit tackles tough issues

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James provides opening comments at the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention summit Jan. 12, 2015, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. This is the first summit consisting of a diverse cross-section of the Total Force, since the stand-up of the SAPR program in 2005. Sexual assault prevention remains one of James' top focus areas of taking care of Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James provides opening comments at the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention summit Jan. 12, 2015, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. This is the first summit consisting of a diverse cross-section of the Total Force, since the stand-up of the SAPR program in 2005. Sexual assault prevention remains one of James' top focus areas of taking care of Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James provides opening comments at the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention summit Jan. 12, 2015, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. This is the first summit consisting of a diverse cross-section of the Total Force, since the stand-up of the SAPR program in 2005. Sexual assault prevention and response remains one of James' top focus areas of taking care of Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James provides opening comments at the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention summit Jan. 12, 2015, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. This is the first summit consisting of a diverse cross-section of the Total Force, since the stand-up of the SAPR program in 2005. Sexual assault prevention and response remains one of James' top focus areas of taking care of Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo/Scott M. Ash)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Top Air Force leaders kicked off a Sexual Assault Prevention Summit Jan. 12, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, to tackle tough issues and get honest and open dialogue from Airmen.

The five-day summit will focus on better ways to combat sexual assault, and take care of victims. About 150 Airmen from all ranks and demographics across the Air Force were in attendance. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James has high hopes for what tools and ideas will come from the summit.

“I think the conference is an important step as we look to permanently shift the Air Force culture to one which embraces and emphasizes persistent focus at all times on dignity, respect and inclusiveness for all of our Airmen,” she said. “By the end of the week, we will all have a better understanding of sexual assault prevention and with your help, we can look at ways to operationalize prevention policy and tactics.”

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer encouraged Airmen to be candid in their discussions and breakout sessions.

“If we don’t talk about this, we can’t fix it,” Spencer said. “It’s not an easy subject to talk about, but we need to get over that. We can’t fix this without each of you.”

To foster a climate of frank and honest discussion, all attendees wore civilian attire and addressed each other by first and last name. No ranks were used.

“Overall I think wearing civilian clothes is a great idea, it helps you feel more free to speak up and give your opinion,” said Tech. Sgt. Jason Jones, the U.S. Air Force Academy noncommissioned officer in charge of basic cadet training.

Jones took the challenge from the secretary and vice chief seriously, and said he’s looking forward to the different viewpoints and collaborations that can come out of the conference.

“I’m excited about this conference,” Jones said. “We’ll be able to take the information we learn and disperse it back to all of our units and squadrons across the globe.”

With a strong participation by the Airmen in attendance, and solid backing from other senior leaders in the Air Force, James’ goal is to accelerate progress toward driving the number of sexual assaults to zero.

The linchpin to the conference is open and honest communication, as well as respect and trust for one another, Spencer explained.

“We go to war together,” he said. “We have to trust each other to be a successful organization.”