Sexual assault awareness - April and beyond

  • Published
  • By Dr. Thomas Appel-Schumacher
  • USAFE Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Manager
Bases throughout U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa are taking part in a sexual assault awareness campaign during April. This year's theme is "We own it....We'll resolve it....Together."

It's the ninth consecutive year that April has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) by the Department of Defense and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

The annual campaign serves as a reminder to us all that sexual assault is a reality that could happen to anyone. The way to prevent it is for everyone to take responsibility to step in and stop the behaviors of anyone who may seek to take advantage of a peer, co-worker, acquaintance, or even a stranger in a non-consensual, sexual manner. Working together responsibly and respectfully, we can stop this horrible crime not just in April, but throughout the year.

To advance our focus on prevention, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) across the command will spearhead a number of activities designed to highlight the facts regarding sexual assault. One important fact involves the profile of a "typical" sexual assault victim. Although the majority of victims are women, the fact is anyone can be a victim of sexual assault - men or women, young or old, gay or straight, officer or enlisted. The more we highlight the facts regarding sexual assault, the more we come to realize we all have a stake in sexual assault prevention.

Another way to advance prevention measures is to review our concept of interpersonal relations. Respect is a key component of any relationship, sexual or otherwise. Respect requires one to listen and carefully consider another's feelings and wants. Trust, another key relationship component, provides a level of confidence and expectation that one person will not harm another. These components provide the framework for openly communicated consent between partners, which is vital to preventing sexual assault. The initiator of the sexual activity must ask if it is okay to continue. Whenever someone says "no" or "stop" or "I don't like this", then the activity must stop. When alcohol is involved, even more communication and caution must be used as alcohol impairs thinking, judgment, and decision making.

Air Force policy does not tolerate sexual assault, a crime that strikes at the heart of Air Force values, potentially erodes mutual trust, endangers mission accomplishment, and destroys individual lives. USAFE-AFAFRICA leadership, both at the headquarters and across command installations, asks that Airmen be responsible Wingmen, not only in April but throughout their Air Force careers. Whenever you see people engaged in behavior that could cross the line in the direction of a sexual assault, the time to do something is clear and unambiguous. Be a leader, be strong, be courageous--you may save someone from a negative, life-changing event.

Proper consent forms the boundary between consensual sexual activity and a major crime. As Total Force Airmen, we can help shore up that line by being responsible Wingmen. Together, let's put an end to sexual assaults throughout the year and uphold the core values that make us part of the greatest Air Force in the world.

To find out more about the SAAM events at your base, contact your local SARC.