“The biggest danger is that we could feel or believe that our individual actions don’t matter and we can’t change anything when the opposite is true.”
These are the words of Joice Jones, 56th Fighter Wing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response coordinator. With the advent of this year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, commonly known as SAAM, it is important to remember that everyone has a role in prevention.
“It takes everyone in every work center to normalize respect,” Jones said. “We all have a responsibility to look out for each other, positively influence the culture around us and control our environment.”
The goal of the month is to bring attention to the silenced. It is a chance to recognize the victims, survivors and their families, said Evelyn Perez, 56th FW sexual assault victim advocate.
“Our mission is to ensure that all victims of sexual assault get the care and support they require,” she said. “We also use education and intervention as a primary means of achieving an environment free of sexual assault.”
While there are practices that might reduce the risk of sexual assault such as using the wingman concept, keeping an eye on drinks and being aware of surroundings, it is important to remember these only reduce the risks, they do not prevent assaults from happening.
“A person can do everything on the list and still be raped,” Jones said. “This is not prevention, this is risk reduction.”
It can sometimes feel that there is nothing to be done by the average person to prevent sexual assaults, but there is, Jones said.
“We are trained by the media, music, television and radio that sexual assault is normal,” she said. “We need to retrain ourselves and our peers on the basic concept of respect. If we respect each other and have compassion and empathy, things can begin to change. It’s all about respect.”
It is important to understand that not only women are affected by sexual assault, Jones said.
“It can happen to both men and women,” she said. “Statistically speaking, the highest-risk age group is 18 to 24 year-olds.”
During her time at Luke Air Force Base, Jones has heard every excuse for why an assault occurred.
“It is never the victim’s fault,” she said. “People try to come up with scenarios to remove the blame. A common one is alcohol involvement, but the alcohol did not cause someone to commit an assault. There is no acceptable reason for anyone to ever violate another person.”
Sexual Assault Awareness Month extends beyond the gates of Luke and is a national effort to raise awareness, promote respect and change the culture.
“Sexual violations are really human rights violations,” Jones said. “This is a problem that should not exist in the world and should certainly not exist in the Air Force.”
The theme for the Defense Department this year is “Live Our Values: Step Up to Stop Sexual Assault.” By living the core values of integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do, Airmen take care of each other and change the culture to one of respect. In focusing on these values, every person can make a difference.