Mock trials teach SAPR through demonstration

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Katrina Heikkinen
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Question after question, she attempts to recall the reported events that transpired over the course of the night. The defense attorney, trial counsel and the alleged perpetrator look intently upon the victim as they shift uncomfortably in their seats.

"At midnight you decided to go to another bar is that correct?," asked Capt. Erin Kenny, a 8th Fighter Wing Area Defense Counsel attorney.
Tech. Sgt. Katherine Simpkins, the 8th FW command section superintendent, nods as she clasps her hands, looking down.

This is the scene witnessed monthly by Airmen from the Kunsan AB First Term Airmen Center, whose training incorporates the realistic portrayal of a sexual assault trial. In an attempt to highlight the emotional, legal and wide-reaching ramifications of sexual assault on individuals, work sections and units involved, the 8th FW Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) office teams up with the base legal office to conduct the mock trials for every first-term Airman entering Kunsan.

Throughout the course of the trial, it is revealed that both the alleged victim and perpetrator met through mutual friends. As the trial progresses, Airmen discover the two primary factors involved in the sexual assault case are high alcohol consumption and the female was left without a wingman, which led to the alleged perpetrator offering to take her home. The events that transpired, including the male entering the female's room, led her to make a sexual assault report.

"The first time I saw a mock trial I was shocked, because I've never heard a sexual assault case scenario play out step by step," said Airman 1st Class Shain Ruhl, an 8th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance journeyman. "But since I've become a victim advocate, I really think it's important for first-term Airmen to have a chance to see these. It opens people's eyes to this topic, because it forces you to see that it is a very real problem that must be addressed."

Mock trials are just one of Kunsan's SAPR programs, which take a unique approach to prevention by emphasizing the aftermath of a sexual assault that goes to trial.

"Here, we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate to Kunsan Airmen a different perspective -- what happens after a report of a sexual assault is made," said Capt. Claudia Santos, an 8th FW SAPR coordinator. "By working together with our base legal team and the office of the Area Defense Counsel, we re-create a realistic scenario in which the victim, the alleged perpetrator and witnesses all take part in the court proceedings."

The demonstration provides not only insight into what occurs during a sexual assault trial, but also a chance to review and analyze the facts as they would be presented in court.

Although the mock trial may be an uncomfortable experience to witness, it provides Airmen a chance to see how events from one night out can lead to a sexual assault. In an environment of zero tolerance for sexual assault, it is every Airman's responsibility to combat and prevent sexual assault.

"Through these mock trials, Airmen see how serious and terrifying the court-martial process can be instead of just telling them about it," Kenny said. "Conducting mock trials show Airmen how quickly a night of fun can escalate to a sexual assault allegation."

According to the Kunsan SAPR office, 71 percent of sexual assaults in U.S. Forces Korea involve alcohol consumption.

"The statistics are staggering," Santos said. "What people may not realize is that only about 20 percent of all assaults are committed by offenders that are strangers to the victim.

Unfortunately, a majority of cases we see involve situations with family, intimate partners, friends, co-workers or acquaintances."

Although the purpose of the trial wasn't to reach a final verdict, Airmen took away valuable insight into how the wingman concept, responsible alcohol consumption and bystander intervention can each play a role in preventing sexual assault. Although alcohol intoxication is not the cause of sexual assault, mock trials provide insight to Airmen by showing the correlation between sexual assault and reduced inhibitions.

"Mock trials demonstrate how perfectly innocent nights can go extremely wrong," said Capt. Brian Adams, the 8th FW deputy judge advocate. "I hope that discussing the topic of sexual assault through mock trials can be a reminder to Airmen to always be mindful of how their actions affect others and the importance of always having a plan."