We have to be vigilant in the fight against sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Taylor Smith
  • 21st Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate
Sexual assault is a crime that not only destroys the lives of victims and offenders, but also devastates morale within a unit.  Although the Air Force has dedicated considerable resources to combat sexual assault, the unfortunate reality is that there will always be some who will commit a sexual assault regardless of the level of prevention and training efforts.

Because there are individuals who cannot be reached, we have to be vigilant in the fight against sexual assault.  This fight takes three forms: the legal process and resources, bystander intervention, and personal efforts.  The legal process may be the most visible, but it only becomes relevant after a sexual assault has occurred.  But, by following a few simple steps, bystander intervention and personal efforts can prevent a sexual assault from ever happening.

If you see someone in danger of being sexually assaulted, step in and offer your help.  If your help isn't accepted, but you still think something is wrong, don't leave.  By remaining in the area as a witness, a potential perpetrator is far less likely to act.  If you know the potential perpetrator, tell that person you don't approve of their conduct and to leave the potential victim alone.

Be a good wingman!  Potential offenders are looking for victims and an individual alone stands a higher chance of becoming a target.  This means not only beginning the night with a wingman, but staying together throughout the night.  If your friend gets drunk and you send her home either alone or with someone you have no reason to trust, you have failed in your job as a wingman.  The night isn't over until you are both home safely.

Always be aware of your surroundings.  Knowing how to get out of an area and who is near you can help if you need to escape a bad situation.  If a situation feels unsafe or uncomfortable, trust your instincts and leave.  Don't worry about what anyone might think--sexual offenders use tricks and manipulation to maneuver their victims into a position where it is difficult or impossible to get away.  If you don't like the way something is happening, walk away or call for help.  Your safety is more important than some potential misunderstanding.

While the legal process is a powerful tool for holding offenders accountable, I have never met a sexual assault victim who would prefer seeing an offender in jail to not being sexually assaulted at all.  It is cold comfort to tell a victim she bears no fault in being sexually assaulted when a few precautions may have prevented the assault from happening.  Taking precautions does not absolve an offender from responsibility.  But considering that we lock our car doors when we go into 7-11, it only makes sense to take steps to protect something much more important.