Sexual Assault Prevention

  • Published
  • 21st Space Wing Judge Advocate

You have been a supervisor in your shop for a little over a six months. Over a few weeks, you begin to notice one of your Airmen just isn’t himself. You’re not quite sure what is causing his change in behavior. His work performance is suffering. The mission is affected. He is withdrawing from his social group at work. You soon find out he is a victim of sexual assault. You try your best to find out what to do, but you are worried you will just make the situation worse. Doing nothing is not the answer. You find out another Airman in your flight is the alleged perpetrator. Now what do you do?

All too often the scenario above is not a hypothetical. An overwhelming number of cases of sexual assault involve a perpetrator who was known and trusted by the victim. The Air Force is home to a large, mobile population. It includes a great number of individuals who are just leaving their family home for the first time. The number of sexual assaults in the Air Force mirrors numbers seen on college campuses, which have a higher rate of sexual assault cases than society in general.

There is no one way to prevent sexual assault, at least not from a judge advocate standpoint. Our advice on preventing sexual assault is to ensure there is a culture of respect and dignity being promoted at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. This is something that begins with flight-level leadership. Basically, just treat others with respect. Ensuring frontline supervisors understand the dynamics of their flights is key. Creating this culture can be as simple as understanding what constitutes consent.

Additionally, providing leaders and frontline supervisors with the tools to help understand what causes sexual assaults is key. Improper responses to sexual assaults can have a chilling effect on reporting. During Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April, 21st Space Wing Judge Advocate teamed with sexual assault response and prevention, office of special investigations, security forces and the local special victims' counsel to present commanders and first sergeants with information on how to effectively respond to allegations of sexual assault. This multi-agency training provided leaders with information on each organization’s roles and responsibilities and was well received. This information was also incorporated into a trifold, ensuring leaders do not have to comb through Air Force nstructions to find a quick reference in a dynamic situation. The JA plans on working with these agencies to make this an annual presentation, to occur every April.

Increasing the effectiveness of responses to reports of sexual assault can help victims be more comfortable making a report. This immediately addresses the problem and develops more efficient and effective ways to combat sexual assault.

The bottom line is there is no one way to prevent sexual assault. There are several small ways to remind people of how they should treat everyone else, how to practice consent and accept “no” for an answer, and how to respect others’ boundaries. Also, leaders and supervisors have a duty to understand the procedures and resources available to victims who report sexual assault.

These actions may seem small and repetitive, but they could make all the difference in preventing a sexual assault, or ensuring a victim is treated the respect and dignity they deserve and require. In fact, Article 6b of the Uniform Code of Military Justice includes “the right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the dignity and privacy of the victim of an offense under this chapter.” This includes any individual who has suffered direct physical, emotional, or financial hardship.

Contact the legal office at 719-566-4871 if you have questions on the proper steps to take when receiving a report of sexual assault.