NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Today’s Airmen face many challenges in both their personal lives and the workplace. Having to worry about feeling safe from unwanted advances or sexual assault should not be one of those challenges. In addition to being essential for effectively completing the mission, being free from unwanted advances or sexual assault is a necessity to overall Airman wellness.
Often times, inappropriate behavior in the work place starts at a seemingly innocent level but then builds into more malicious behavior and conversations.
“Sometimes we learn how to tolerate certain inappropriate actions because we deem them low threat. We then normalize them [and make those actions or conversations acceptable],” said Terri Nathan, 99th Air Base Wing sexual assault prevention and response victim advocate. “When that happens, it can escalate. One week someone may make an inappropriate joke, next week someone may want to one-up [the other].”
Though that particular colorful conversation may be between individuals who are perfectly fine with the situation, there may be someone else in the room who is offended by the nature of the conversation. If that person is the only one who is offended and is afraid to speak up, he or she could in turn become isolated from his or her co-workers.
Being isolated because of fear should never be the case for Airmen.
“All Airmen should be able to come to work in a comfortable and respectable environment” said Master Sgt. Stephanie Martinez, 99th CPTS first sergeant.
It is up to peers, co-workers, and supervision to put a stop to inappropriate workplace behavior and unwanted advances.
“It is up to peer pressure to stop [inappropriate] behavior and to report it to supervision before the issue gets out of hand,” Martinez said.
In addition to unwanted advances and inappropriate behavior, sexual assault in the military is a serious challenge that can hinder Airmen from completing their mission.
“As military members [sexual assault is currently] a hot topic in the media and Congress,” Nathan said. “Our image can be tarnished.”
The more sexual assault happens in the military, the more it will be reported by the media, and the more the public’s image of military members will be tainted.
Sexual assault is an issue that affects both men and women in a variety of ways.
The majority of reported attacks have come from women between the ages of 18 to 26. However, they are not the only victims. Men are just as likely to be a victim of sexual assault as women.
“Men would report it less [than women] because there’s the shock value for men. In our culture, men are taught that they should be able to fight off an attacker. If it’s woman on man, the man could be ostracized. His male friends might isolate him for not being excited about having sex.”
“If it’s man on man, [the victim] could call into question his sexuality or his manhood. [Or] they don’t want to be associated with the stigma of being a victim of sexual assault,” Nathan said.
Many of the cases covered by the media have been situations where the perpetrator is in a position of authority over their victim. This is not always the case.
“Most cases that are received happen between people that are acquaintances. It also happens among peers,” Nathan said.
Many times, these peers and acquaintances are together in social situations where alcohol is present.
“The alcohol causes people to let their guard down,” Nathan said.
There are a couple of ways to prevent sexual assault.
The primary person who can prevent assault is the potential assailant. It is up to him or her on whether or not to commit the offense.
The second method of prevention is bystander intervention. People who are present but not involved with the potential incident have the choice to intervene in the situation before an assault happens.
“Compare it to a DUI. Do we stop it based on the potential harm, or let it go? If you see something that isn’t right, do something to stop it,” Nathan said.
An intoxicated person leaving a social gathering with another individual who has mal intent can be compared to a person attempting to drive home while drunk. Bystanders need to stop the situation before it even has the chance to develop.
To report an unwanted advance from a fellow Airman, notify your supervision.
A workplace and environment free of unwanted advances, threats, or assaults is one of the most important pieces to overall Airman wellness and being able to effectively and efficiently carry out the mission.