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Air Force officials focus on sexual assault prevention

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Air Force Secretary Michael Donley directed a comprehensive review of the service's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program as a result of information provided by a survey of active-duty members, officials said March 16.

This survey was specifically designed to establish baseline data for addressing this serious issue and to help develop more effective programs aimed at preventing sexual assaults altogether, said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.

"We wanted the clearest possible understanding of the scope and nature of this problem," General Schwartz said. "This survey gave us a first-of-a-kind look at how sexual assaults have affected our Air Force community and informs us what we must do to better protect our people from this crime."

The ongoing efforts to enhance the Air Force's program include Secretary Donley and General Schwartz directing commanders and leaders at all levels to take advantage of the knowledge gained from the survey and increase focus to improve the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program.

The general underscored his pledge to give every victim a voice following a sexual assault.

"We want all affected Airmen to feel empowered to report this crime," General Schwartz said. "We want them to know that we're committed to holding offenders accountable through effective investigations, knowledgeable judge advocate advice and strong unit support and leadership."

Department of Defense officials recently released its annual report on Sexual Assault in the Military, which indicated the Air Force had 585 sexual assaults reported in 2010.

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, sexual assault is one of the nation's most underreported crimes.

The Air Force contracted Gallup, Inc. to conduct an anonymous survey to better understand the scope and nature of sexual assault in the Air Force and help build a more effective prevention and response program, said Carl Buchanan, the Air Force SAPR program manager.

"The survey took place in July and August of (2010), and the final report was presented to the Air Force in December," Mr. Buchanan said. "Since that time, the Air Force reexamined the entire program."

The Gallup survey used behavior-based questions derived from specific Uniform Code of Military Justice offenses that cover the full range sexual assaults, he said. The survey results showed that within the 12 months preceding the survey, 3.4 percent of women and .5 percent of men experienced sexual assault. Of those experiencing sexual assault in the preceding year, only 16.7 percent of women and 5.8 percent of men reported the assault. The survey also revealed that since joining the Air Force, 18.9 percent of women and 2.1 percent of men had been sexually assaulted.

The survey also discovered that most assaults occur while victims are at home station, as opposed to during deployments or temporary duty assignments, and most offenders are other Airmen.

"The results of the Air Force 2010 Gallup survey will be used as a baseline to measure increases or decreases in incidence (during the previous 12 months) and prevalence (during the member's Air Force career) of sexual assault in the Air Force," Mr. Buchanan said. "Having this information will be valuable to senior leadership and commanders so they can make much more informed decisions when implementing programs and policies aimed at preventing sexual assaults and caring for victims."

Survey participants also identified several reasons they didn't officially report their assaults, officials said. Reasons included not wanting other Airmen, superiors, or family to know, distrust in the reporting process, fear of retaliation or recurrence, or not considering the specific circumstance serious enough to warrant reporting.

"I strongly encourage anyone who is affected by sexual assault to take a courageous stand and help bring perpetrators to justice," said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy. "We need to stand together against these crimes."

Air Force officials will start Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April with an education campaign focusing on various aspects of the sexual assault prevention and response program, Mr. Buchanan said.

This year's Department of Defense theme "Hurts One. Affects All" and an Air Force-specific message of "Real Wingmen Act" will reinforce the idea of acting as a team, demonstrate the value of bystander intervention and stress collective responsibility for prevention, he said. The Air Force message will be delivered through open dialogue in small groups that will help Airmen recognize behaviors and sustain a culture in which sexual assault is not tolerated.

General Schwartz stressed the criticality of fostering an atmosphere in which Airmen feel comfortable reporting sexual assaults.

"Sexual assault is a crime that violates our core values, and as an institution, we won't rest until we eliminate this criminal behavior," General Schwartz said. "Leadership is key in creating an environment of trust in which all Airmen are safe."

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