by Airman 1st Class Ryan Conroy
31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
4/8/2014 - AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- In
an effort to address the growing concern of sexual assault in the Air
Force, the month of April is dedicated to sexual assault prevention and
response. This year, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, U.S.
Air Forces Africa will employ the "Step up, step in" initiative
throughout the ranks for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Team Aviano and sexual assault prevention and response leadership are
stressing the importance of core values, trusting in one another, taking
an active approach in prevention and holding the small number of Airmen
perpetuating the circumstances accountable.
"Sexual assault directly impacts our mission readiness as we must have
trust in one another," said Brig. Gen. Jon A. Norman, 31st Fighter Wing
commander. "Sexual assault also exacts an extraordinary toll on victims
and their families. We go into combat together and there can be no
hesitation in that trust between our brothers and sisters in arms. Those
who commit sexual assault break down this trust and we have no place
for that in our service.
"An extremely small percentage of Airmen commit this crime, and we must
be part of the solution by improving early intervention, accountability
and victim support," added Norman.
Bystanders are encouraged to "step in" during uncomfortable, developing
situations to diminish sexual assaults across the board. SAPR leadership
cited a "better safe than sorry" ideology when it comes to
"We don't always know if by acting that we prevented a sexual assault or
violent situation, but it is better to intervene and have read the
situation wrong than to do nothing and allow an assault to occur," says
Jamie Carbajal, 31st Fighter Wing sexual assault and response
specialist. "As Airmen, it is our responsibility to step in and take
care of each other."
Here, there is a recurrent correlation between sexual assault and the
influence of alcohol. In 2013 at Aviano, 85 percent of sexual assaults
occurred when alcohol was involved, said Carbajal. When alcohol is
involved, perpetrators have a greater ability to target vulnerable
victims and have an easier time attacking their credibility.
"When alcohol is a factor, it makes it a risky situation for everyone,"
said Carbajal. "Bystanders can misread the situation or it may affect
their ability to intervene and offenders - we're talking about the
repeat offenders who encompass 71 percent of assaults - those offenders
use alcohol as a weapon. They prey on those who drink heavily, who may
be new to the base or may be young."
Consent is defined by the Air Force as words or overt acts indicating a
freely given agreement to the sexual conduct at issue by a competent
person. There is no consent where the person is sleeping or
incapacitated, such as due to age, alcohol, drugs or mental incapacity.
"One should assume that there is a 'red light' in regards to consent for
sexual activity unless the other party verbally gives you the 'green'
light,'" said Carbajal. "Knowing that the other person has given consent
when alcohol is involved is risky. Consent and sexual behavior should
be viewed as a continuum of risk. When individuals have been drinking
alcohol and there are no clear indicators that consent has been given,
sexual activity becomes extremely risky."
The short-term goal of SAAM is to spread awareness and foster an
environment where victims feel comfortable coming forward to report and
gain support from victim advocates as well as other agencies to promote
Carbajal believes this can be done by breaking down some of the barriers
associated with reporting such as the belief that no one will believe
them or acknowledge their victimization, environments where misogynistic
comments and jokes are acceptable or fear of reprisal from coworkers.
The long-term goal is to eliminate sexual assault altogether.
Victim advocacy is a critical component of the program, and base-level
volunteers are the key to its success. Base SAPR members recruit,
screen, interview and select Airmen who, once trained, will serve as
victim advocates at their installation. They support victims of sexual
assault and ensure that they are not alone as they go through the
response, recovery and accountability process.
Swift, decisive response to an assault and holding perpetrators
accountable is the basis for program credibility, said Carbajal.
"Empathetic, supportive response to a victim is the first step toward
their healing, but holding perpetrators accountable for their crime is
the critical final piece of the program. Sexual assault is a crime, and
criminals must be prosecuted. When we hold perpetrators accountable, it
helps victims move forward, and sends the clear message to all that
sexual crimes will not be tolerated," said Carbajal.
For more information about SAPR programs, including how to volunteer to be a victim's advocate, call 632-7272.