Peterson Airmen take time in April to discuss “it” – sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Monica Mendoza
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
When Kelly Addington finally told a close male friend that she had been raped, she wasn't prepared for his reaction.

"Who is he? Where is he? Is he dead? Is he in jail? If he's not, he's going to be," he yelled, veins throbbing in his neck.

Although he meant well, his anger didn't help her, she said. It didn't make her feel safe.

"It made me feel like I had to defend myself," she said. "It made me feel like I had to defend my attacker and it made me feel the same way I felt when I realized I had been sexually assaulted."

If the statistics published by the Center for Disease Control statistics hold, one in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. So, chances are pretty high that it will happen to a close friend, and that friend will need support, said Ms. Addington, who was on Peterson Air Force Base April 1, with her best friend Becca Tieder, to talk about "it" - sexual assault.

"Lets not have a violent reaction to a violent situation," Ms. Addington said.

Ms. Addington and Ms. Tieder are experts on sexual assault awareness and prevention, and sexual empowerment. The friends, who met when they were in high school, take their discussion "Kelly and Becca, Let's Talk About 'It'" to college campuses and military installations. Ms. Addington was raped when she was a college student. The assault happened one night after she had been drinking, by someone she knew, and she doesn't remember the attack. She had violent nightmares and anxiety in the weeks that followed and then she found out she was pregnant.

There is still a lot of confusion and misconceptions about what sexual assault is, said Jeanine Arnold, Peterson AFB sexual assault response coordinator. Acquaintance rape is among the most difficult situations for people to understand.

"It's rape, just as much as if it happened in a dark alley," Ms. Arnold said.

In the military, acquaintance rape is the most commonly reported sexual assault. One in three military women will be the victim of an attempted sexual assault. Some studies suggest that one out of 10 men in the military will be, or have been, a victim of sexual assault over the course of their lifetime, Ms. Arnold said.

The Department of Defense Annual Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Report, released in March, said there was an 11 percent increase from 2008 to 2009 in the number of sexual assaults reported.

"One sexual assault is too many," Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in statement released March 16.

Prevention is the best strategy, Ms. Arnold said. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and she is on a mission to spread the word to Airmen about sexual assault, the consequences, and to tell Airmen that help is available.

"Prevention means so much to me," Ms. Arnold said. "I used to be a therapist. Boy, did I see damaged lives. It's so energizing to be on the prevention side. If I can prevent one sexual assault, that's huge."

Since 2005, there has been sexual assault response coordinators on every Air Force base. At first, people were defensive about the topic, Ms. Arnold said. Sexual assault is an ugly business and not an easy issue to discuss, she said. Now, however, Airmen are more open to discussing the issue and to receiving training.

Peterson has more than 20 volunteer victim advocates, people trained to work with victims and help them get the services they need. Bob Orwig, 21st SW deputy director of staff, is one of them. He knows a young woman who was brutally raped and he knows the heartache it causes.

One aspect of sexual assault is how a person survives it and making sure they get the help they need, he said.

"We have a process and program in place that if this happened to someone, there are people who can help. We will do what we can to show them the right places to go and the right people to talk to that helps them get through this tough time," Mr. Orwig said. "If I can help somebody, then I want to do that."

SARC offices offer a place for people to confidentially report a sexual assault. It's called a "restricted" report and it means chain of command is not notified, but it allows the victim to get medical or counseling help.

"If they go with a restricted report, then they can come in and talk to a SARC and we don't have to tell anyone, not a soul," Ms. Arnold said.

A person who makes a restricted report can change their mind later and make an "unrestricted" report, which will be forwarded to the chain of command and law enforcement will open an investigation.

But, there are things that Airmen can do, starting now, to reduce sexual violence, Ms. Tieder said. They can get educated on the subject and know the resources available. That means programming the SARC hotline -- 556-7272 -- into their phone, she said. They can be sexually empowered by being confident and knowing what they stand for and knowing their values. And, they can look out for their fellow Airmen.

"It's about that bystander collaborative, that we are all one community," she said. "We all have a responsibility to take care of one another."

Prevention also means acting responsibly, said Capt. Nekitha Little, 21st Force Support Squadron and a SARC victim advocate. Alcohol is involved in more than 80 percent of sexual assaults. Airmen should take care of themselves and not put themselves in compromising situations, she said.

"Sexual assault is real," Captain Little said. "Someone you know, whether you know it or not, has been assaulted."

Ms. Addington's friend got angry when he heard the news of her assault. He wanted revenge. But, the best reaction is to listen to the victim, understand that it is not the victim's fault and accept what the survivor says.

"Believe people when they tell you they've been assaulted," Captain Little said. "And be a friend to those in recovery."

Get educated
 Sexual assault can occur without regard to gender or spousal relationship or age of victim
 Consent shall not be deemed or construed to mean the failure by the victim to offer physical resistance
 Consent is not given when a person uses: force, threat of force, coercion; when the victim is asleep, incapacitated or unconscious
 For more information, or for help, call the Peterson SARC, 556-7272

Make responsible choices
 Irresponsible drinking is a factor in more than 80 percent of sexual assaults. Alcohol is the most commonly used drug to facilitate sexual assault
 Challenge verbal, physical and sexual inappropriateness that can contribute to a climate that allows for sexual assault
 Don't stand by when you observe warning signs of potential sexual assault

Sexual Assault Awareness Month
 Sexual Assault Awareness Month run, 8 a.m. April 15, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station
 Sexual Assault Awareness Month run, 11:30 a.m. April 23, Peterson Sports and Fitness Center, Building 560
 "Full Power," lessons on self defense, setting and protecting personal boundaries and de-escalating threatening confrontations, 4 to 6 p.m. April 23, Peterson chapel