Air Force leaders reinforce zero tolerance for sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
Leaders from wing level to senior Air Force brass recently gathered for a two-day leader summit on sexual assault prevention and response here. 

Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz affirmed their commitment to eliminating sexual assaults in the Air Force, and challenged Air Force leaders and Airmen to do the same.

"Sexual assault is absolutely inconsistent with our core values and it has no place in our Air Force; in a deployed context, at home or anywhere in between," Secretary Donley said. "Many offenders were known by their victims and most involved crimes committed by other servicemembers. This is blue-on-blue violence, and we cannot accept it."

General Schwartz echoed the secretary's comments.

"We must foster a culture that actively rejects sexual assault and similar kinds of behavior," he said to the group. "This is not passive. We cannot just hope for the right outcome. This requires activism on all our parts. The message should be loud and clear that addressing sexual assault is a foremost and direct responsibility of commanders and a collective responsibility of our community of Airmen."

In 2005, the Air Force launched the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and placed full-time sexual assault response coordinators, or SARCs, at all main operating installations. SARCs report directly to vice wing commanders and provide support at locations across the Air Force, including main deployment sites. Additionally, 1,695 volunteer victim advocates assist the SARCs in ensuring victims of sexual assault receive the care and support they need.

"Our efforts here and our programs require constant senior leadership involvement," said Lt. Gen. Richard Y. Newton III, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, which oversees the Air Force SAPR program. "The SAPR program relies on Airmen's ability to trust their leadership and trust the system enough to report incidents of sexual assault."

Reporting remains one of the biggest challenges facing the program and Air Force leadership. Victims have two options for reporting sexual assault -- restricted and unrestricted. Restricted reporting is available for members serving in an active-duty status and allows a victim to confidentially disclose information about an assault to SARCs, victim advocates and healthcare personnel to receive medical treatment, counseling and advocacy without automatically triggering an official investigative process. An unrestricted report is any report of a sexual assault made through normal reporting channels, including the victim's chain of command, law enforcement, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations or other criminal investigative service.

While there were nearly 600 reported incidents of sexual assault among Airmen in fiscal 2007, statistics show many victims are still hesitant to come forward when a sexual assault occurs.

"Whether or not Airmen place trust in the system, and whether or not they choose to come forward is based on their trust in (leadership) to be able to get to the root of the problem and solve it for them," General Newton said. "We must ask ourselves if we have the climate, communication and processes in place; do we have the leadership in place whereby our Airmen feel if they come forward, they will be listened to and supported? We have to make sure we have that trust established for our men and women."

"Creating that culture and climate begins with prevention and awareness education so that our Airmen understand the realities of sexual assault," said Carl Buchanan, the manager of the Air Force's SAPR program at the Pentagon. Currently, Airmen receive sexual assault awareness training when they enter the Air Force either through Basic Military Training or officer accession programs, and other venues. All Airmen must also fulfill an annual training requirement and pre-deployment training through the base SARC.

New initiatives are on the horizon for the SAPR program to include bystander intervention training, risk reduction education and training incorporated into formal professional military education courses that "grows" with Airmen as they progress in rank and responsibility.

Pilot sessions for bystander intervention modules were completed in October and November at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Keesler AFB, Miss., which enabled enlisted, officer and civilian Airmen to provide first-hand input for the modules, Mr. Buchanan said. Bystander intervention training is a prevention strategy that will provide Airmen the appropriate skills to prevent sexual assaults before they occur and continue to reinforce the wingman approach.

"Our goal is to develop effective education that achieves a working knowledge of sexual assault prevention and results in positive behavioral change," Mr. Buchanan said. "To aid in this effort, the Air Force has obtained advice from many national experts, some of whom presented powerful messages about sexual assault, victimization and prevention methodologies to the leaders attending the summit."

Sexual assault prevention and response education focuses on the definition of sexual assault, how it impacts victims, reporting options, available support, how predators target victims and steps Airmen can take to identify and address behaviors leading to sexual assault. Formal training is based on continued development throughout an entire career, and will build based on Airmen's level of leadership and responsibility.

By mid-December, the Air Force plans to release training modules for predeployment and for Airmen arriving at their first duty assignments. Similar course modules are also expected to be released in January 2009 for enlisted and officer professional military education curriculum.

"We need to go out and make sure everyone in the Air Force understands sexual assault will not be tolerated," General Newton said to the group. "I hope we don't create a great program and build great relationships, then go back to our units and do nothing with it. (Sexual Assault Prevention and Response) needs to become part of our institution. What I hope is that your own awareness has increased and will compel you to act, think and lead differently."

For more information, contact the local sexual assault response coordinator or visit the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Web site at

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