'Bystander' intervention key to stopping assault

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Carolyn Herrick
  • 15th Wing Public Affairs
"Every single day for over a year, he'd come home and beat me. I came to work with black eyes, fat lips, and bruises on the sides of my neck. Nobody did anything. Nobody called the cops, nobody sent me to family advocacy; no one wanted to say anything."

This was the testimony of a now 29-year-old female staff sergeant, 10 years after her brutal first marriage, as she opened discussion at Bystander Intervention Training here.

"He forbade me from talking to men. He threatened to kill me, and I believed him," said Staff Sgt. Christine Kearney-Kurt, a 65th Airlift Squadron communications systems operator and instructor for Bystander Intervention Training, a new mandatory program for all Air Force military service members and civilians.

In the gender-segregated forum, men and women alike are encouraged to speak openly about their experiences, discussing how they, as bystanders, might have colossal impact on potential victims of physical or sexual assault.

"It's a little bit different than 'death by PowerPoint,' or a typical briefing," said Master Sgt. Jason Redford, the 647th Logistics Readiness Squadron acting first sergeant, and a victim advocate and BIT instructor. "It's interactive. It's not canned. You're asking for their direct thoughts, their ideas, and things they've seen in the Air Force, right or wrong."

The intent of the curriculum is to help Airmen assess if, when and how to intervene in questionable, intimidating or even explicitly dangerous situations, in a non-attribution environment.

"Bottom line is giving people options and preparing them beforehand," Sergeant Redford said. "When it comes to sexual assault, we can talk about the end result, but often people aren't looking at the steps that lead up to that."

In the breakout sessions, which Sergeant Kearney-Kurt said are different for males and females, they talk about the "continuum of harm," which is a scale of things that lead up to sexual assault. That could be anything, from sexist jokes to inappropriate e-mails.

"As you allow those behaviors to occur, it becomes inappropriate touching, (and) then it could turn to an assault," which isn't always necessarily rape, she said. Sexual assault can occur on many levels.

Allowing and tolerating negative or derogatory behaviors in the Air Force breaks down unit cohesion, morale and productivity, and decreases the ability to accomplish the mission, agreed many of the females during one open forum. If those things escalate, they could very quickly turn into a full-blown assault.

"We want a culture shift," Sergeant Kearney-Kurt said. "We want to get people to understand that the person being assaulted, if it's a woman, could be your girlfriend or sister. That (analogy) seems to hit home with the men. They don't want their sister to be assaulted."

Every person is a bystander, she said. The BIT is geared to help every bystander be able to intervene on another's behalf.

"This is being taught at college campuses now," she said. "Eventually, we want the whole country doing this. Hopefully it'll be a learn-by-seeing thing. It's like paying it forward. Someone helped me; let me help someone else."

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For more information on sexual assault prevention, response or reporting procedures, or to become a victim advocate, contact your installation Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. Information is also available on the Department of Defense's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response website at http://www.sapr.mil.