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Air Force releases new SAPR strategy

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Air Force leaders released a five-year Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Strategy that will guide the Air Force in developing a robust prevention model while continually honing response capabilities today.

The secretary, chief of staff and chief master sergeant of the Air Force signed a foreword to the strategy charging all Airmen with the responsibility of preventing sexual assault.

“Sexual assault prevention is critical to the health, morale and welfare of Airmen and ultimately essential to Air Force readiness,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “This strategy lays out the deliberate, science-based process we will follow to eradicate this crime from our ranks.”

The two-part document outlines both response and prevention strategies. Although Airmen will likely be familiar with the programs included in the response portion of the strategy, the prevention strategy presents a new phase in Air Force SAPR efforts, said Dr. Andra Tharp, an Air Force sexual assault prevention and response highly qualified prevention expert.

“Using a public health approach to prevention, the strategy will use proven prevention programs, policies and best practices to reduce risk factors and enhance protective factors,” Tharp said. “Fostering skills such as being an active and engaged bystander, managing emotions and resisting peer pressure are proven approaches to preventing violence.”

The Sexual Assault Prevention Strategy lays out the sexual assault prevention tenets: preventing violence before it occurs; promoting prevention at every level; and providing ongoing prevention activities that reflect the unique roles and development of each Airman.

In line with the Defense Department strategy published in April 2014, the Air Force strategy promotes a comprehensive prevention approach that ensures prevention messages and skills are consistent and reinforced across the different environments in which an Airman may live and work.

“Our Air Force family comes from all walks of life, but we all work together to protect our nation,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “Our core values are what bind each of us together, and it’s on us to take the time to really know our people. We’re all part of the solution or there is no solution.”

According to the strategy, a key long-term objective of SAPR programs is to provide every Airman with standardized, developmental education and training throughout their career, strengthening the Air Force culture of dignity and respect and sustaining an environment inhospitable to sexual assault perpetrators. Effective enhanced developmental education and training will be tailored to address specific populations and behaviors of individuals, groups, and cultures.

“We’re moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to prevention and thinking hard about who needs what and when,” Tharp said. “We know that risk factors change as people age and that an Airman’s role in prevention might change as he or she takes on different leadership roles; so, we are moving towards a more nuanced approach to prevention that focuses on delivering relevant skills and messages to the right people at the right time.”

The strategy document explains factors that put an individual at risk for perpetration such as previous unhealthy experiences, beliefs or relationships, and outlines a plan to tailor training to address risk factors in every setting.

“We listened to Airmen’s concerns and we’re excited about the new model that will be introduced to the force,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody. “It’s on us to ensure our Airmen are trained appropriately to shape our culture in a manner that does not allow sexual assault or harassment to occur.”

Airmen will begin seeing portions of the prevention strategy in action this year. The Air Force SAPR office is working with a contracted prevention training company to tailor the company’s training to address specific populations and behaviors of individuals, groups and cultures within the Air Force.

Focus groups to assist in this effort are currently ongoing at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, and Keesler AFB, Mississippi, and the new training will be presented to Airmen beginning in January 2016. Additionally, major commands across the Air Force have already begun to use advisory boards or existing installation delivery systems to support the rollout of the prevention strategy and new training model.

“Sexual assault has a direct impact on our Airmen and our mission. Our Airmen deserve to carry out our vital missions in an environment where they are treated with respect and dignity,” James said. “We will not stop looking for ways to improve until we have an Air Force free from sexual assault.”

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