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Air Force takes swift action against sexual assault

By Maj. Gen. Margaret WoodwardOffical Photo : MGen Margaret Woodward

Headquarters Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office

WASHINGTON, July 24, 2013 — It’s not an overstatement to say that the past many years have been challenging for those in the military working to prevent sexual assault and sexual trauma.  However, for those who’ve been victimized it has been much worse, and we should never forget that. 

The harm in this crime is not just physical; it is emotional, scarring the mental health of our Airmen, often in enduring ways.  As an institution, we must foster a culture that nourishes dignity and respect for fellow Airmen.  The health of our Airmen and the readiness of our force demands it.

Scandals such as the one at Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, have taught us that those of us in uniform must remain vigilant and supremely committed to addressing and eliminating this crime.  From my new vantage point, overseeing Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response efforts at the Pentagon, it’s worth noting how our institution has stepped up to meet this challenge in myriad ways.

The renewed focus started with my appointment to lead this team of 31 experts who are truly dedicated to tackling the multidimensional issues surrounding sexual assault and rape occurring in our Air Force. Our team includes research analysts, epidemiologists, mental health professionals, special investigators, and others who can help us address root causes and find effective, verifiable and lasting solutions.

My mandate from General Welsh is to initiate broad and sweeping changes that will help the Air Force pursue perpetrators and support victims holistically, with input from Airmen, seasoned sexual assault prevention and response professionals, victim advocacy groups, and incorporating the very best practices outside of military and government. We also will spend a great deal of time listening to and learning from you, our Airmen, to develop policies with far-reaching and tangible effects.  

We realize fixing this problem will not be easy or quick.  But we won’t be paralyzed by the size and scope of the challenge. We are already moving out on multiple fronts:

  • ·         On July 16th, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer launched “Every Airman Counts,” a wide-reaching program, the first initiative of which is a blog website where Airmen can talk to their peers and share ideas on how the Air Force can better address this issue. We also will routinely offer web chats with senior leaders and experts in the field of sexual assault and sexual trauma.
  • ·         As of July 2, after completing any disciplinary action for sexual assault, commanders must initiate administrative discharge processing for any Airman, officer or enlisted, found to have committed a sexual assault offense.
  • ·         Airmen have the right to have a general officer review a case if the Airman believes the commander’s recommendation for involuntary separation was initiated in retaliation for having made an unrestricted report of a sexual assault within the previous 12 months.
  • ·         We are conducting Airmen surveys and focus groups where we will travel to several bases to personally talk to Airmen about their views and perspectives.
  • ·         We have already instituted a program to provide trained legal advisors to those who have been victimized. The Special Victims Counsel program is designed to fill gaps that often arise in the wake of sexual assault and rape cases.
  • ·         We have begun partnering with sexual assault prevention experts inside and outside the military. One thing I have learned thus far is there is no silver bullet, no quick fix to this problem.  The solution requires our total commitment at every level of the chain of command and from each one of you.
  • ·         We will continue to educate leaders up and down command chains, using everything from unit level discussions to a planned general officer summit.  We all must understand what it takes to identify, and hold accountable, perpetrators of sexual assault and how best to support our Airman survivors.

This isn’t an issue that just affects the very small percentage of perpetrators or victims within our ranks, it affects us all.  And we are all part of the solution.  We all must help the Air Force reinforce a culture of dignity and respect, and create an environment that isolates perpetrators and removes them from our ranks.  We will not stop until collectively we solve this issue for the good of our Air Force, our nation, and most importantly, every one of you!

(Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward is director of the Headquarters Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.)



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  1. JK says

    As a female veteran of the Air Force, I was the victim of sexual assault as a young airman. At the time I was afraid to report the incidents for fear of retribution. Now that I am older, I realize that I should have reported these things when they happened and that by allowing these people to get away with what they did, I probably enabled the perpetrators to hurt someone else.

  2. Col Gary Packard, USAFA says

    Leadership Matters Most! Eradicating the culture that facilitates assault in our AF starts with leadership. Leaders set the command climate that nurtures respect for all people and holds people accountable for their actions. Research clearly shows that when commanders tolerate disrespectful behavior such as sexist comments or squadron traditions that marginalize women or other groups, the likelihood of assault significantly increases. There are three pieces to winning this fight: Strong action to prosecute and hold perpetrators and bystanders accountable, effective education programs to protect all Airmen from assault, and an aggressive effort by our leadership to change our culture to respect and care for all Airmen. Being an effective wingman should truly mean caring for and protecting everyone in the organization. When I was working in the Pentagon on the DADT repeal study in 2010, we recommended a strong leadership message as the most important key to successful repeal implementation. Repeal has not impacted our force negatively and all data to date indicate that leaders got the message right. One of the best leadership messages on repeal was delivered by General Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps and his Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps ( General Amos testified to Congress that he was personally opposed to repeal. However, when repeal became the law of the land, Gen Amos delivered a clear leadership message to his Marines, “We will step out smartly to faithfully implement this new law…I want leaders at all levels to reemphasize the importance of maintaining dignity and respect for one another throughout our force. We are Marines. We care for one another and respect the rights of all who wear this uniform.” Australia’s Army Chief Lt Gen David Morrison’s recent message to the Australian military on sexual assault is another excellent example of a strong leadership message ( Like General Spencer’s message when you open the AF Portal, it clearly emphasizes professionalism and respect while stating in no uncertain terms that assault will not be tolerated. We must make this rhetoric our reality at all levels of the chain of command. All Airmen must be able to reach their full potential as equal partners in service to our nation. Select leaders who understand how to lead respectfully, arm them with the tools they need, and hold them accountable for the actions of their units, then things will change quickly because leadership matters most.

  3. BNS says

    Before any new measures are implemented, the ones in place should be enforced. IAW AFI 36-6001 para 1.4.2. Provide an immediate, trained response capability for each report of sexual assault and ensure victims are protected and treated with dignity and respect, and receive timely access to appropriate treatment and services. It was brought to my attention that not all bases have a doctor available 24/7, that is capable of performing a SAFE kit. In order for airman to feel comfortable reporting a sexual assault or rape, they must know that there is always going to be help available. I believe that upholding this standard would be a great first step in the right direction.

  4. A1C Kilbourn says

    In my opinion a lot is being done to spread knowledge and empower victims to come forward; however, there isn’t enough being done to prevent people from doing such criminal acts. Knowledge can only go so far. If we are in the ” US Armed Forces” then shouldn’t we be armed?

    I am in Combat Communications and we go through a two week long mobility course that use to contain basic combatives. For those that are not in Security Forces or other fields requiring hand to hand combat courses, most are physically unarmed. I am not a picture of “strong,” but I consider myself armed by knowledge and combatives. Combatives are low cost due to it being hands on and low training time for the training to be effective years later. Even an hour a day during basic training and maybe make an optional or required every two years refresher training course would help arm our soldiers against sexual offenses.

    Combatives are meant for high adrenaline situations where you don’t have enough physical strength to protect yourself because of exhaustion, a lack of mental awareness (dizzy or possibly drunk), or you simply can’t overpower the immediate danger. This would include a situation where maybe you don’t remember enough or are too drunk to do an exact move of combatives, but you would have enough adrenaline and instinct to do what was intended from that move.

    Combatives do have “safeties” to prevent you from getting injured from practicing them on each other. This brings up the question of “Would they work on someone that knows them?” I believe this to be yes because if you are the one trying to commit the criminal act, are you going to focus on what the other is doing or on what you’re trying to do to him or her. An example of combatives would be a male trying to penetrate another male making the position of the perpetrator behind the victim; the victim would instinctively grab and twist a handful of the perpetrator’s sensitive area to release one of his arms, then proceed to poke him in the eyes to gain full control then finish the combative move, which leads to the perpetrator’s death and would not be excessive force against this crime.

    Arming our soldiers with more than knowledge would get us one step closer to preventing this crime. We cannot prevent all criminals from doing actions that lead to the pain of others, but we CAN give them their first and last unsuccessful attempt. Combatives would be a cost efficient and effective step in the process of eliminating of sexual assault.

  5. Brian Smith, Vet, Civ says

    Change the Culture Suggestion: Remove the Pornography
    I propose that the SECAF give strong consideration to removing porgnography from our AF exchanges. I request that every airmen who supports this idea submit the following simple complaint at their military exchange “Please remove pornographic magazines from the military exchange, and help us to improve the culture of respect for every airmen.”
    What is wrong with this idea?
    1. The SECAF can’t do that. I beg to differ. On 27 June 2013, SECNAV has ordered the removal of all “inspection of all DON workspaces to ensure the are free from materials that create a degrading, hostile or offensive work environment” and SECNAV included “Navy and Marine Corps Exchanges” in the definition of workplaces.
    2. It violates free speech. I ask, whose free speech is being violated? The publisher? Certainly not, the publisher is free to publish pornography, and the military has a duty to keep it out of it’s workplaces, just as it does any other hostile, degrading, or other offensive materials. Does it violate the free speech of airmen? Certainly not, looking at something is not speech. We are not blocking the airmen’s ability to read or to subscribe to such materials.
    Why should you support this idea?
    1. Restore the culture of respect for all airmen. Pornography degrades our respect for one another. It degrades the respect and dignity of those who are pictured, those who view it. It causes the viewer to look at people as objects to be used for their pleasure rather than as people to be respected.

    2. Did you know that the military exchanages count every complaint and that complaints against pornography are specifically tallied. The low count of compalints are specifically used to justify the continued sales of pornography.

  6. Brian Smith, Vet, Civ says

    An true story of how pornography creates a hostile and degrading work enviornment.
    When I was a 2Lt at Andersen AFB in Guam I worked in Civll Engineering. The AF exchange would deliver the unpurchased pornographic magazines to the recycling center which was the responsiblity of my shop. In order to claim that the materials were unsold and get money back from the publisher, the exchange had to rip the covers off of these magazines. The result was that the magazines delivered to the recycling center were spilled out with all their contents to see by every airmen working in the recycling center.
    The recycling center was paid for by appropriated MILCON, and was operated with AF O&M funds. It was staffed by airmen both male and female. In other words this was a miltary owned and operated workplace.
    When the magazines were delivered, people would know and we had an increase in “visitors” on recycling day, who were there to pick up their “free porn”. The ensuing negative behaviors resulted in a degraded, hostile, work environment.
    Furthermore, the deliveries of these magazines to the AF workplace did harm to me psychologically. It influenced me to look at others with less respect.
    It may be easy for some of you to judge me for not stopping this. The truth is that even though I complained to my supervisor about it, I was not strong enough then to put a stop to this.

  7. KT says

    Suggestion: Have a person present in dorms 24 hours a day.

    Having people who are resident advisors (RA) who have a 24/7 open door policy and are visible in the dorm community and at social functions may provide deterrence of sexual assault. This would necessitate people working in shifts and the individuals would have to be very carefully selected. The RAs would need to have excellent interpersonal communication skills that would encourage conversation and trust, be able to relate to the Airmen and their place in life, and be well versed in guiding Airmen to helping resources when needed. They would need to be viewed as a mentor as opposed to a disciplinarian who is present to enforce rules.

    The job would be challenging, but rewarding. Perhaps wearing civilian attire while serving in this capacity might be helpful in encouraging Airmen to feel more comfortable approaching the RA so they are not facing a uniform or rank.

    While I have not lived in Air Force dorms, I did live in college dorms and it was very helpful to have a responsible, experienced person to turn to for advice, help, or just friendly conversation. I was in my base’s Bystander Training when young women described aspects of dorm life that were shocking. They said dorm residents prey on new Airmen. They said new Airmen are taken from public gatherings into rooms where they are sexually assaulted. They spoke as if this was status quo. I asked if there was anyone around such as a resident advisor, and they said the person is only present during the day.

    Hopefully this suggestion inspires brainstorming on the possibilities of such a program.

  8. Leah Watson, Capt, USAF says

    I think that one area that could help foster a community that supports victims coming forward would be to institute training for S2I (SFOI), AFOSI, JA, CC and CCFs on the neurobiology of trauma and the true rates of false reports (very low). Stories of false reports, victim blaming, and too much focus on reducing ones risk of being a victim without enough talk about not sexually assaulting others (and why consent is important) can inhibit victims from coming forward for fear of being negatively judged.

    In the military we can understand trauma in the combat context. We need more training to help our investigators, prosecutors, and commanders understand that trauma is trauma is trauma. There is nothing special about sexual assault trauma from the brain’s perspective. The brain stores memories under traumatic situations the same chaotic way. Everyone who experiences trauma will face the same difficulties with memory recall. Until there is greater understanding of this, there will continue to be a perception that a victim of sexual assault should have a clearer and more linear memory than a victim of a road side bomb. Training is needed to correct this view.

    Using that same analogy, we need to increase understanding that the social perceptions of sexual assault victims currently carry many stigmas that a victim wrestles with similarly to how a wounded warrior comes to grips with the social perceptions of a visible injury. Victims hesitate to take on the mantle of being a “victim” as it comes with a heavy burden. The shame and embarrassment that victims report feeling steams more often from how others treat them after the crime than the crime itself.

    We can change the cultural barriers to reporting through a greater understanding of trauma and training to eliminate the perception of high false reports.

    • Old Vet says

      What do you know about the training those people/agencies receive? Apparently nothing.

  9. TSgt James says

    Maybe someone can help me to understand better. From what articles i have read more sexaul assults happen in a “deployed” (not just the sandbox) status than in “not deployed”. please correct me if i am wrong not trying to start an argument but to help me better understand.
    I see a lot of things about banning certain things. I don’t see this helping. We should act like adults w/ morales. We have to build a cultured AF.
    The reason i brought up the deployed instance above is because we fall under general order #1 and for AF its added admendments. There are less people deployed than not and more sexual assults happen in those situations.
    Banning items wouldn’t change a thing in my opionion, it would make it worse. I am relegious but I am also logical. People need outlets, and they are going to find it where ever they can.
    Bascally w/ the cultural society of the US (ever changing), AF has to find a way to start pushing impressionable ideas (good ideas) into airmans belief/morale thinking that they will take w/ them through there careers.

  10. TSgt Fons says

    So we can’t spend money for TDY’s and training but we can to have focus groups? Are we serious? Send out the criteria and let the Wing leadership conduct the groups and send up the findings. I have no issue with this entire situation being taken seriously but this isn’t the only relevant issue going on in the Air Force.

  11. A1C Norman says

    I remember when I was finishing BMT, Maj. Gen. Woodward collected all BMT trainees to fill out the SARC forms, and it was just after the trial of the MTI’s who were tried and convicted on accounts of rape.
    I am behind this program 110% and I believe that it has great potential. As an Airmen Leader in Tech School, we were tasked to “take care” of our airmen. As an A1C in the worlds greatest Air Force, I am the “new guy” in my unit, but I still have influence that can make a difference.
    This program is not just for Air Force, but for civilian life as well. I expect that those attacked will find the courage to bring those criminals to justice, and that more Airmen will recognize the signs, and have the courage to make tough calls in the name of justice.
    We are airmen and we never leave fellow airmen behind.
    I may sound crazy, but as someone who’s family has had to deal with the “R” issue, it’s personal.
    Rape is destructive, inexcusable, and criminal, don’t let “that guy” go free!

  12. PJC says

    Really?!! Redesign the uniforms so they don’t give “unneeded views. . . ?!!” Don’t be so nieve that a uniform (or the way one dresses) is the “cause” of perps, thrill seeekers, etc.sexually assaulting someone. As a USCG veteran, I was raped by a higher ranking enlisted person who wanted me to know that he did not like women in the military – especially on “the front line.” There was nothing in the way I dressed that would have been suggestive to him. Yes, the AF has given service members the tools to recognize, apprehend and monitor/conduct ourselves during social activities, but how one looks in a uniform is NOT the answer.

  13. Amy says

    I believe victims would be more likely to come forward if A)the investigation process was quiter and the victims chain was not told unless it was oked by the victim to inform them, B) if the victim was investigated harder than the perp, investigators can just as easily take the perps med records, facebook, therapy books, diaries ect, which could indicate a history of sexualy assaulting people. when I came forward they wanted my medical records, seriously, why? C)reprisal needs to stop, its not the victims fault that s/he was forced into this why are they taking the brunt of it when the perp gets a pat on the back, more legel help than the victim, and more sympathy from the chain. it also should not reflect on a victims EPR who is struggling with PTSD and trying to hold up all the other standards and fail in a section, cut the victim a little slack, not a lot, but they are already under lots of unusual stress.when I reported I was set up to take my pt test on my day off to study for my CDC test which was the day before the trial then had to go TDY the following monday. I was told if iI couldnt handle that “little bit of stress” I wasnt suited for the Air Force. If i had a chance to do it over I would never have reported it. also when I tried to move out of the dorms to get out of the room it happened in because it was like forcing some one with PTSD from a morter or roadside bomb to live nect to the crater for me I was told NO at first because “it could happen off base too, I need to get over it.”

  14. SHaG says

    The Air Force – and the military in general – has a very
    large problem when our leadership believes that nose art and a copy of
    “Fitness” magazine cause sexual assaults. There is no form of sexual assault that should ever be condoned, but many of the current policies are simply foolish and do nothing to minimize a threat. For example, in this era of political correctness, management has embraced the notion that women belong at the front line of combat operators, but that no one should expect any repercussions because of that stance. We are being told that men and women are “equal,”when, in pure fact, they are not. Each sex has superior qualities that make them invaluable in certain roles and less valuable in others. Leadership has overlooked this fact and now the DOD is trying to deal with the troubles caused by the oversight. They fail to understand the very basic cause of the problem.
    Pregnant sailors!? Do you expect less when men and women are at sea for extended periods of time while bunking in the same quarters? How many WAVEs were impregnated during WWII? Was their service any less important because they were not on the front lines of the battles or because they did not bunk with the men serving with them? As I see it, the DOD is leading lambs into a cage of hungry lions, and then scratching their heads wondering why the lambs are being eaten. Before anyone has a heart-attack for using this analogy, remember that Men can easily be considered a lamb in this comparison!
    There are many security cameras pointing inward on our
    military bases. I have observed that on my particular outpost, every woman’s latrine has at least one camera trained on it.
    There is not, however, even one camera pointed at the mens’
    facilities. Is this discrimination? Is the safety of the men on base not as
    important as that of the females here? If women feel they are equal, and demand equality in all things, why this difference? I plainly see hypocrisy and stupidity in these small things but I am certain that those in leadership positions don’t ‘get-it.’ Allow Men to be Men, and Women to be Women. Attempting to create a single-gender fighting
    force is a folly. Stop with this ‘multi-cultural- diverse-equality-in-gender’
    babble and let us focus on strengthening an AMERICAN fighting force. Quit ‘celebrating’ our God-given differences and creating division. Quit creating policies that exacerbates the problems we have!
    Instead, let us unite and celebrate our connection to a common cause.

  15. NMD says

    Freethinker01, that is the most outrageous thing I’ve read on this blog. As a lesbian, I can tell you that because of opinions like yours I don’t go into public showers, after BMT. Even if I were to use them, the last thing on my mind would be to spend any time looking around. I have self control and respect for people, and would not want to be looked at in that way while I was in an “intimate setting”. Also, need I remind you that the repeal of DADT just allowed the LGB community to be “out”, we were already serving along side of you the whole time.

    As far as acceptance of homosexuality, because of the repeal my flight has become very open. I am now free and welcome to bring my significant other to events, and actually invited to them more often. We also have more individuals who have recently stepped forward and “come out” because they didn’t feel as if they would be condemned.

    As for the matter of sexual assaults, there are no statistics that support the idea that LGBT individuals are more likely to commit sexual assault or be sex offenders. In fact, in certain statistics for men assaulting men crime, sex offenders are disproportionately likely to be heterosexual.

    Also Col Packard, thank you for your role in the repeal.

  16. LT says

    Of course the focus is to pursue perpetrators! Otherwise, who are we trying to hold accountable for sexual assault? Perpetrators make the decision to sexually assault someone; not victims. When someone says “no” to sex, how hard is it for the other person to understand? As long as everyone respects the other person’s wishes, then there will not be “false accusations” that you say are so common.
    Then you say “your aggressive “pursuit” is going to have a chilling impact on the work enviornment”.
    Really? Who specifically? The perpetrators? Because I know i won’t be feel a chilling impact on my work enviorment, unless we do nothing to stop sexual assault. If the aggressive pursuit has someone sweating bullets, then they are the one’s who need to be caught.

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