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Air Force officials host Sexual Assault Prevention, Response Leader Summit

To reinforce the service's commitment to protect Airmen and maintain a safe environment, senior leaders gathered for the 2009 Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Leader Summit Nov. 16, 2009, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

To reinforce the service's commitment to protect Airmen and maintain a safe environment, senior leaders gathered for the 2009 Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Leader Summit Nov. 16, 2009, in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- To reinforce the service's commitment to protect Airmen and maintain a safe environment, senior leaders gathered for the 2009 Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Leader Summit here Nov. 16.

Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, Assistant Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. William L. Shelton, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy were among the leaders who delivered keynote speeches in the two-day summit focused on one of America's most under-reported crimes.

"Effective prevention of sexual assault begins with a culture that does not tolerate it," Secretary Donley said. "This is a leadership issue from top to bottom.

The secretary said that it is not lost on the service that almost half of the victims are between 20 to 24 years of age and about two-thirds are within the ranks of E-1 to E-4.

"Every Airman in every unit must lead in his or her own capacity and in all social situations whether inside or outside the Air Force family," he said.

The secretary added that fostering the wingman culture in which Airmen care for each other also requires focused education and training on the behaviors that constitute sexual assault.

He cited there were more than 600 reports involving Air Force members in 2008, noting that the number of reports in 2008 was about 8 percent higher than the previous year's total. Like all services, the Air Force has been working to create an environment where individuals not only understand how to seek help after an attack, but also feel comfortable doing so. With restricted reporting available, victims can chose how they want to proceed in documenting the incident.

Restricted reporting is a victim's option to make the initial report to a sexual assault response coordinator, sexual assault victim advocate, military healthcare provider (including mental health providers), or a chaplain. Confidentiality is maintained for the victim, and an investigation is not conducted. Unrestricted reports involve a formal investigation.

"We believe the option to report a sexual assault without triggering an investigation has brought more Airmen forward for care," Secretary Donley said.

General Shelton asserted that leaders must exhaust all efforts to make victims feel comfortable throughout the reporting process.

"We must continue to educate our force so that there is no fear of reprisal or uncertainty in the reporting process," General Shelton said. "The trust and faith in the system is built by our actions and reinforced by our words."

General Shelton also shared Secretary Donley's sentiment related to the impact of sexual assault.

"A single act of sexual assault can create a ripple effect throughout the units involved, creating divisiveness within and between organizations," General Shelton said. "It can destroy unit cohesiveness and eradicate the cooperation on which our Airmen pride themselves."

Chief Roy said sexual assault affects a wide-range of Airmen from a personal and mission perspective.

"It is a crime, and we need to hold people accountable for it," Chief Roy said, noting that no one group is immune from its effect. "It runs the gamut from all levels and both genders ... ranging from senior folks to that very young recruit."

The Air Force's fiscal 2010 budget includes more than $27 million for about 170 military and civilian full-time sexual assault response coordinators and approximately 1,700 trained volunteer victim advocates.

In addition, Air Force officials are finalizing efforts to launch bystander intervention training as part of its strategy in primary prevention efforts. Bystander intervention training is designed to motivate and mobilize Airmen who may see, hear or otherwise recognize signs of sexual assault.

"Our obligation ... to create a wingman culture that protects our fellow Airmen has never been stronger," Secretary Donley said.

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