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AF leaders gather to address sexual assault prevention, response

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jess D. Harvey
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Air Force leaders from around the globe gathered at the 2012 Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Leader Summit here April 17 and 18 to learn about service-wide SAPR issues and programs.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Phil Breedlove both spoke at the event, stressing the importance of dealing with and ultimately eliminating sexual assault within the Air Force.

"Our dedicated men and women selflessly put themselves in harm's way," said Breedlove during the first day of the summit. "We owe our Airmen a safe environment where they may continue to focus on defeating our nation's enemies."

Breedlove cited a 2010 Gallup survey of a representative sample of Air Force active duty members, which revealed that 19 percent of female Airmen and 2 percent of male Airmen reported being the victim of sexual assault at some point while they have been in the Air Force.

Eighty-one percent of these women said they were sexually assaulted by a fellow military member, as did 50 percent of the men. Among those whose perpetrators were in the military, the large majority said their perpetrator was in the Air Force.

Breedlove said any sexual assault is unacceptable, and that the Gallup survey data should anger every leader in the Air Force.

"It is a cancer that has the ability to tear our units apart," Breedlove said.

Donley, who spoke April 18, emphasized that a professional work environment is a fundamental right due every Airman, and that Air Force leadership will do whatever it takes to stop sexual assaults in the service.

"Our moral imperative in this area is clear," Donley said. "Sexual assault is a crime and is categorically unacceptable. It is incompatible with our core values, it is harmful to our people and it makes us a less effective fighting force. We need to crack down on this harder than ever to get this out of our culture."

Breedlove said the problem of sexual assaults has crept into the Air Force and onto its bases, citing other Gallup survey data indicating that of those reporting being sexually assaulted while in the Air Force, 51 percent of the women and 41 percent of the men said they were assaulted on a military installation.

The general said it is up to the Air Force's leaders to do all they can to ensure professional work environments for all of the service's members.

"The days of telling inappropriate jokes and turning our backs on offensive behavior are over," Breedlove said. "A duck-and-cover posture to this problem has never been, and never will be, an acceptable approach."

Breedlove encouraged commanders and enlisted leaders to get out of their offices and get back to face-to-face leadership principles. He also said they must ensure their subordinate commanders, supervisors and other leaders are on-board with eradicating the sexual assault problem.

"If your senior NCOs and your company grade officers don't understand the severity of this issue, or your level of commitment to this matter, they'll not be able to influence the force," Breedlove said. "This issue will not go away, unless you take it head on."

Donley summed up both leaders' comments by emphasizing that one sexual assault is too many.

"Sexual assault is a violation of everything the U.S. military is supposed to stand for," Donley said. "We have an obligation to live by our core values, and meet or exceed the high standards that the American people expect of us."