Kunsan sexual assault prevention, response team brings home AF-level award

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Earon Brown
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The 8th Fighter Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Maj. Daniel Giannavola, and Deputy SARC, Capt. Poonsak Kajonpong, were announced as the Air Force-level winners for the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award for the timeframe of Oct. 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014.

"What an honor," said Giannavola. "I think we are finally seeing, within the last 18 months, that we're starting to make headway on bringing awareness to this serious issue. Just to be nominated was an honor, but it's not just our office, it's the wing. It starts from senior leadership and goes down to the lowest-ranking Airman."

Responsible for managing victim care services and sexual assault prevention and response education and training for 2,800 active-duty personnel, the award recognizes the duo for their contributions to the SAPR program both at Kunsan AB and across the DOD. After first being selected to represent Pacific Air Forces at the major command level, the Wolf Pack Airmen carried on to win at the Air Force level.

According to the award nomination, the Airmen's actions contributed not only to sexual assault prevention in theater, but also enabled Wolf Pack commanders to focus on the mission.

Five innovations in particular were recognized including the creation of a "Sexual Assault Theater Group," a "Silent Walk" honoring survivors of sexual assault, the execution of a week-long SAPR focused exercise, the combining of SAPR education with the Staff Judge Advocate to create sexual assault mock trials, and an extensive media campaign aimed at preventing sexual assault, helping survivors and promoting reporting.

"These were all joint efforts, it wasn't just out of our office," said Giannavola. "More people realize that as a wing, as a team, we can fight this with ingenuity instead of the PowerPoint briefings and the negative connotation that sometimes comes down with this program. If we get the message out in an innovative way, people are not only more apt to join the fight, but they're going to get the conversation going."

One of the conversation starters here at Kunsan is the Sexual Assault Theater Group, or SATG, said Giannavola. The SATG is a group of volunteers of all ranks from Airmen to senior officers that act out sexual assault skits that are Kunsan specific. These educational skits show real scenarios that are meant to serve as a prevention tool for people to know the warning signs of an assault and stop it before it happens.

"The SATG is a pretty cool thing," said Kajonpong. "It shows a sexual assault without one actually happening and gives Airmen of all ranks perspective on what can happen, something that they might never see otherwise."

Available for commander's calls, first term Airmen class, NCO professional military education, distinguished visitors and exercises, the SATG conducted regular performances not only on stage, but in the court room.

We worked with the judge advocate to work out a mock trial, more specifically a sexual assault courts martial, said Giannavola. Those mock trials utilized the SATG members as the defendant, the plaintiff, and the victim, who would not only don their service dress uniforms alongside the judge advocates, but also memorize scripts that were at times over an hour in length.

According to Giannavola, the intent was to create sympathy and empathy among attendees, while at the same time providing the shock value of a courtroom environment. Following the trial, the team would brief the prevention aspect of SAPR, leaving the verdict unread and leading the attendees to contemplate the possible outcome.

While the mock trials were conducted to impact individuals, the Kunsan SARC office also carried out an exercise focused on determining the ability of units on base to respond to a sexual assault report.

Designated as "Beverly High 14-01," the exercise was designed with an emphasis on educating frontline supervisors. Spending a week undercover, the SARC and SATG team would visit different squadrons across base, finding Airmen to play out a scenario of reporting a sexual assault and seeing how their leadership responded. All squadrons received a grade, and each response was briefed giving commander's an opportunity to see just how prepared their squadrons are to deal with a sexual assault report.

While Exercise Beverley High simulated sexual assault reports, the Silent Walk held in May showcased the number of actual reports at Kunsan in previous years.

"A lot of people think about numbers, but until you actually see the numbers come to life, you can't really understand how much of a problem it is," said Giannavola.

Following group discussions, Kunsan Airmen would head to the track to take part in the Silent Walk. Stanchions were lined around the course with a helmet on each, presenting a generalized case that had been reported at Kunsan and the demographics of victim. On the ground between each stanchion were three more helmets, each representing the cases that go unreported. During the silent proceedings, Airmen were encouraged to reflect in their own way, with a giant white board and sticky notes at the courses end for visitors to share their thoughts.

"It's very interactive," added Kajonpong. "It touches a lot of people's hearts and puts things into perspective for a lot of folks."

"In another effort to bring forth perspective on sexual assault, we conducted a media campaign with the efforts of Kunsan's public affairs office and Armed Forces Network," said Giannavola.

The products included interviews, videos, radio spots and photography showcasing the stories of both sexual assault survivors and base victim advocates.

"We were able to highlight the program itself, including educating people on restricted and unrestricted reports and the meaning of consent," said Kajonpong. "We also brought awareness to our victim advocates, which I don't think has been done before. They all come from different backgrounds, so it's great for them to be able to tell their story."

Working in concert with AFN and Defense Media Activity, the local commercials would go DoD-wide to an audience on 1.8 million. The intent was to encourage people to address the problem by including a personal touch.

"People seeing that and taking ownership; that was the big thing," said Giannavola. "Whether they want to be a victim advocate, a SATG member, or whether they just wanted to come out and help, we saw the number of volunteers skyrocketing."

Having the wing itself take ownership of issues with sexual assault was a key point for Giannavola.

"It is important that we, as a culture, lose the negative stigma regarding SARCs," he concluded. "We want to spread awareness that every person has the power to prevent sexual assault, and we did that here through outreach and face time with Wolf Pack Airmen."

Having been recognized at the Air Force level for their accomplishments and innovations, the Kunsan SARC office is on its way to doing just that.