Commentary

April 25, 2014

Every Airman has a role in preventing sexual assault

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry O. Spencer testifies on the Air Force Readiness Posture April 10 before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington, D.C. Spencer shared the witness table with Gen. John F. Campbell, the vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army; Adm. Mark E. Ferguson III, the vice chief of naval operations; and Gen. John M. Paxton Jr., the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.

Every April we recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, using it as an opportunity to renew our commitment to treating each other with dignity and respect. I applaud and support the idea of a month focused on sexual assault prevention and response, or SAPR, but what we really need is everyone’s focus on this critical issue every day.

Sexual assault is a crime and impacts the very trust and respect that is integral to our profession. For our Air Force to be successful, we must trust each other. All it takes is one incident of assault to break that bond of trust, but it takes all of us to work together to solve the issue.

In the past 18 months we’ve emphasized the importance of treating each other with dignity and respect, and we’ve made progress through a renewed emphasis on training and education. We’ve seen a real difference in areas like the Special Victims Counsel Program, which provides individual legal support to victims of sexual assault and now serves as a model for the Department of Defense. Reporting of sexual assault allegations has increased, which we believe is an indicator of increased trust and confidence in the reporting process. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of victims that convert to unrestricted reports, which we feel also indicates increased trust and confidence in our system.

But, you won’t find us “high-fiving” our success. With that success and pride comes the unquenchable need to do more.

None of us should be comfortable with the fact that we have sexual assaults occurring in our Air Force. And none of us should rest until that crime is eliminated; it’s everyone’s responsibility. Sexual predators are determined to carry out this offense and will do so unless you and I step in and stop it.

We need to be on the lookout for those among us who would commit such a horrible crime. You may be aware of a former wing commander who recently left our Air Force following a series of incidents involving the compromise of integrity. On his last day in command, he sent a very poignant note to his Airmen. I was struck by the sentence that read, “If only one person had stood up and did or said something, the situation would have ended differently.”

Sexual assault is no different. Bystander intervention can be a game changer. We need each of you to be that one Airman willing to step forward when a situation starts heading in a bad direction. We need you to be part of the solution. We know that takes courage, but we also know you possess it because we see it every day.

As you participate in SAPR month activities I offer a few thoughts for reflection.

First, this battle against sexual assault is a marathon, not a sprint. This is not a program or a campaign that will go away in a few months – consider it an enduring effort that serves to honor the dignity and respect of all Airmen.

Second, be a good wingman and watch each other’s back. Let those around you know that sexual assault will not be tolerated. Start by taking responsibility for your workplace and do not tolerate inappropriate or degrading remarks or the display of sexually explicit or suggestive materials.

Thank you for all you do in service to our nation. As I have always said, every Airman counts, and I am relying on you. From the time you first put on your uniform until the time you leave the Air Force, I expect you to be committed to a culture of dignity and respect among all Airmen. We owe it to each other to honor the sacred bond of trust that unites us all as Airmen in our United States Air Force. Don’t let each other down.




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