One in four

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amanda Callahan
  • 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
One in four: Look around you right now, whether you're at your workplace or waiting at the clinic; where ever you are look around and count one in four women around you.

How many did you identify? Just one? Maybe two out of eight? Three out of 12? The number can get staggering, depending on the crowd. One out of every four, according to the Center for Disease Control, is the number of college-age women who have suffered sexual abuse. Men, you're not that far behind. A 2005 CDC survey of high school students found 4.2 percent of young men between grades 9 and 12 had been forced to have sex at some point in their lives.

The numbers in our Air Force don't differ too much from those of the CDC. A December 2010 Gallup study conducted for the Air Force's Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response found among current Air Force members, 18.9 percent of women and 2.1 percent of men have experienced some type of sexual assault while in the Air Force. Not earlier in their lives, not as children, but while serving beside wingmen; while serving as Airmen.

Seeing these numbers affected me personally. It forced me to look around, and look at the people I care about -- either as a supervisor, as a subordinate or as a friend -- and wonder who is a part of that statistic. I decided to do what I could to help where I could.

During the same time frame, I saw an email asking for victim advocates. I saw an opportunity in that email I'd never considered before. I quickly replied, adding my name to the list of others who felt this was their best way to help Airmen in their time of need if they, too, become "a statistic."

The training was grueling, at least for me. It included graphic depictions of women and men in situations no one wants to be in. It goes beyond the abuse itself, which should be the end of the victimization. Victims are also subjected to having every aspect of their lives questioned simply because they were victims.

An excellent example of this was in a training session called The Rape of Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith was walking alone late at night and gets robbed by a stranger with a weapon. When he goes to report the crime to the authorities, the line of questioning by police starts to sound accusatory. The interview included questions such as, "Why didn't you try to fight off the robber?" "Were you drinking?" "What were you wearing?" "Well, that's a nice suit; don't you think someone wearing such a nice suit is putting themselves out to be robbed?" "Well, don't you think someone walking alone in that neighborhood so late is asking for trouble?"

No one likes to admit it, but these are questions asked of victims daily. These victims didn't lose a wallet or have their watches stolen; they were raped, molested or otherwise sexually violated. The mentality that victims are somehow held responsible hit me hard. I realized I was just as guilty as a good portion of the public. In my past, I, too, have prejudged victims. I've made comments about girls who've had way too much to drink, girls dressed a little more provocatively. I made a commitment to myself; not that I would never do that again, but that I would catch it and stop it when I did.

Being a victim advocate won't stop the "old school" way of thinking. Maybe it can help, though.

I can only hope to be there for someone in what could be the worst time of his or her life. Meeting someone under those circumstances is a little scary. The anxiety, the "what if I mess up;" it's all very surreal if I allow myself to focus on it. However, it doesn't compare to what he or she just went through.
Maybe, if we all stopped for a minute and looked around, we'd see our daughters, wives, mothers, even brothers and husbands, in that position -- angry, afraid, humiliated -- and we'd work together to stop accusing, start educating, bring justice and find more ways to prevent assaults.

It took 40 hours of training for me to see the error in my ways. Hopefully, it takes you only the time to stop and look around.