Air Force General Counsel Blog The chief legal officer and chief ethics official of the Department of the Air Force

13May/1349

What Do You Think About What It Takes to Reduce Sexual Assault

As anyone even remotely paying attention to the news already knows, the focus of many of us in the Pentagon (and the White House and Congress) is on the problem of sexual assault in the miltary. The leadership of all the military services is focused on the issue and the Air Force is no exception. 

I don't want this to be a Beltway conversation and it struck me that our social media experiment might be a good vehicle for getting those of you in the field to weigh in.  Its also a vehicle for those of you in civilian life with ideas to weigh in.  If you want more background before commenting, this is a good start.

So, please weigh in!  Use our comments below, our twitter feed, direct message, or even snail mail ( to Air Force General Counsel, 1740 Air Force Pentagon, Washington, Dc 20330-1740) to give us your comments.

Here are some questions to get the discussion started:

Given the large number of unreported sexual assaults, how do we determine whether increased reports are a good thing (more victims coming forward) or a bad thing (more assaults)?

Does it continue to make sense to have commanders involved in UCMJ actions?  What is gained or lost by their involvement?  How should we structure the military justice system?

Does it make sense to expand the Air Force pilot program of providing legal counsel to victims of sexual assault to all services?

We have a myriad of prevention programs? What works?  How do we tell?

Alcohol seems to be a major factor here.  Is that true?  What can we do to address alcohol abuse and binged drinking?

What issues are those of us in the Beltway ignoring?

Charles A. Blanchard
General Counsel
United States Air Force

  • http://twitter.com/annq Ann-WomanTalk Live

    Until you have more people coming forward to report sexual assault, you won’t know what the stats are showing – more people coming forward or more assaults. It seems to be pretty evident that many more people have not reported incidents and why they haven’t reported has been widely discussed. If someone does not feel safe in reporting… chances are, they won’t do it. And, the cycle of abuse will continue because no one is held accountable.

    It makes absolutely NO SENSE to have commanders involved in UCMJ actions. It doesn’t work that way in the real world – and, once again, we have seen and heard of too many instances in which the decision by someone in command is totally in appropriate.

    Victims of sexual abuse absolutely should have legal counsel and guidance – IF they are protected as they go through the process.

    You are talking about changing a culture – and that takes lots of commitment and work from everyone involved. And, in some instances, the culture at the top has to be changed, too. What’s being ignored or missing? – it’s not a boy’s club anymore and ‘boys will be boys’ is not an acceptable defense any longer – never was. Any person charged and indicted should be criminally prosecuted, and if found guilty of sexual assault, should lose all their benefits, their rank, and be dishonorably discharged, etc. – everything. Until there’s a REAL penalty and punishment for this behavior, it will continue.

    The time has long passed for this issue to be dealt with in a half-hearted manner. It’s not going away.

    Thanks for asking for feedback.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=11811251 Crispin Burke

      One interesting fact from the survey was that over 70% of respondants felt that they would feel comfortable reporting sexual assault, if it occurred.
      That, combined with the recent efforts to combat sexual assault (the number of cases referred to courts-martial seem to have doubled), seems to indicate that the miltiary is taking this more seriously.

      • http://twitter.com/annq Ann-WomanTalk Live

        Crispin, I really hope you are right. The press and the feedback I get seem to indicate that we have a lot of work to do around this issue. Sexual assault should never be an occupational hazard in any field.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=11811251 Crispin Burke

    Greetings. Let me start by saying that I am committed to stopping sexual assaults. But a few concerns first.

    1.) In our efforts to crack down on sexual assault, how do we protect the rights of the accused?

    2.) What is the conviction rate for those who face court-martial for sexual assault? How does this compare with the civilian average?

    3.) 80% of of the reports of sexual assault come from women. Yet, according to a recent DOD Survey, over 50% of those who responded that they had been sexually assaulted were male. How do we explain that discrepancy?

    • http://www.facebook.com/reese.rickards.7 Reese Rickards

      More than 50% of military persons, according to the DOD survey, were men. Question, however: What percentage of men were sexually assaulted by women and how many by other men?

      Reese Rickards

      • Chuck Blanchard

        The data from 2012 was not statisticly significant, but in the last two surveys, men reported that the offender was female in about 60% of the cases. It is important to remember that under Article 120, sexual assault includes unwanted touching or grouping.

  • Chuck Blanchard

    Crispin:
    I don’t know whether you wanted a response, but I thought some response would be useful to the larger discussion:
    1. Any response to sexual assault needs to take very seriously the due process and other constitutional rights of the accused. I don’t see any desire to change the burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt), for example.
    2. According to the latest SAPRO report, there is a 79% conviction rate for cases that go to courts martial. It is hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison to the civilian experience for several reasons including the lack of real data from the civilian world, the use of Art. 15 and the lack of a counterpart in the civilian world, and the much broader definition of sexual assault in the UCMJ than that found in most civilian jurisdictions. DoD was looking to try to hire someone to do a true apples-to-apples comparison, but I don’t know that they have gotten very far.
    3. Good questions about male survivors. The DoD survey offers some data on why men don’t report at page 108. The results are very different than women, but the sample size is too small to draw any strong conclusions. The main reasons were fear of punishment for other infractions such as under-age drinking, the fear that they would not be beleived, and fear that promotion or performance evaluation would be affected.
    Hope this helps. Thanks for the comment. (Both the report and the survey, by the way, have a wealth of data on the issue and are worth at least a skim by anyone interested in the issue. Exhibit 11 on the Annual Report (page 70) is especially interesting–it shows that the percent of sexual assault cases being handled by courts martial (as opposed to NJP or administrative actions) has increased from 36% in 2007 to 68% in 2012. This shows a pretty big change in how the military handles these cases in the last few years.

  • Susan Sallamack

    My advice is to figure it out fast and finally. I was ready to go into the Navy when a friend’s father told me that only women who “want it” enlist in the armed forces. This was 1968 and I understood immediately that this was 1) a male self-serving concept and 2) a warning that this would be the view of me if I joined the Navy. So I went off to Columbia University instead. Since then, I’ve learned about wide-spread Vietnam era rape attacks on women, to current day rape attacks in the Military. How many women have turned and run from enlisting in Military service to protect themselves because it is clear that the Military will not. Get this matter out of the hands of the Military into the hands of professionals. Why would any woman, or man for matter, trust an institution with the track record that the Military has in this area?

    • Chuck Blanchard

      Thanks for the comment. Beleive me, there is a high degree of attention to this issue by our most senior leadership, and has been for well over a year. They recognize that this is a critical problem that needs to be addressed–and quickly.

  • http://twitter.com/MotherJulie MotherJulie

    If one wants to send a direct message, rather than a public comment, to what email address should it be sent? Thank you.

    • Chuck Blanchard

      I look forward to your comment!

  • http://www.facebook.com/debra.kellerman.16 Debra Kellerman

    First: Thank You for opening this up on a public forum (social media) it takes courage to ask for outside “help/opinion”.

    Second: That you have a space on your site where victims can get assistance is wonderful – that needs to be a sticker on every military restroom, male and female. (along with the phone number)

    Third: I am not versed in unit command and the chain of command, but I am a firm believer that the person to report any abuse should be a 3rd outside party, not civilian necessarily but someone who has nothing to gain or lose when a reporting an assault. I have heard reports that the offender is quite often the commander and the one person that the assault be reported to. That creates an predatory culture, and should be circumvented.

    Fourth: a no second chance policy (after investigation, trial and conviction) if found guilty – complete dishonorable discharge -and whatever the court deems as punishment re: jail time.

    – The rights of both the accused and the accuser need to be protected, names not released until the matter has been addressed – but both should be separated from each other (so not to create unnecessary tension or harassment to each other or in the unit) with as little fuss as possible – but maintaining each of their status in their jobs and rank. I imagine that can be difficult in many situations. (can a furlough be arranged?)

    Fifth- the military has Chaplains – use them, train them in counseling, being an advocate for accuser or accused alike. (again difficult but not impossible)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=576646730 Jason L Straw

    First I would like to say I have been disappointed in how the Air Force has handled the criminal acts of sexual offenses in its branch and it needs to hold it Higher Ranking Offers to the same standard, if not a higher standard than everyone else since they set the example to the rest of the Force.
    With Sexual crimes being committed it has a huge impact on moral, which leads to a degradation in our effectiveness to perform at our best. If our leadership is seen as immoral and allows a cancer to spread then outstanding Military Members will leave, be harmed mentally and ultimately cause increased health care cost to the Nation. Our military members are not disposable people; the Commanders can use up and then toss out at their leisure.
    It is about time we take these crimes seriously and investigate them and if someone is found guilty hold them accountable, make them pay restitution to the government and the military member they harmed. No more Generals giving up a star and then getting to retire on the tax payers’ dime, no more colonels being forgiven after a conviction to continue their career and being allowed to retire at the countries expense and no more looking the other way sweeping it under the rug and hoping it will go away. Our military leaders have failed us for way to long and will continue until we hold them accountable. The victims need our support and sympathy, not to be ashamed and isolated because they came forward as it has been in the past in the military, the culture must change. Enough courageous heroes have stepped forward and suffered to get us this far how much more must they suffer before justice is truly accomplished in our military?

  • tcloss

    Lawmakers and those in civilian society that have no knowledge of or interaction with the military are looking at this as if it’s purely a military or DoD problem. It is not. This is a societal epidemic and until it’s treated as such in our greater American society, the so-called epidemic in the military will not change. We, the military, can certainly react better, we can train to prevent it, we can impose harsher punishment from what we do prosecute, but in the end the population we recruit from…Congress’ exact constituents they claim to represent…must change as well. Until Congress is as appaled and dramatically disgusted with all sexual assaults, not just military assaults, not much will change. But, to get to your discussion-spurring questions:
    - Given the large number of unreported sexual assaults, how do we determine whether increased reports are a good thing (more victims coming forward) or a bad thing (more assaults)?
    Yes and no. Yes, good that people are coming forward. Not good there is even one. It’s nearly impossible to impart a connotation on any increase in reports. You could just ask victims via anonymous survey or have a SARC simply ask and track, what made them report? Did the AF program entice you to come forward thru the programs offered, or protections? SARCs could offer an ‘exit’ survey to both restricted and nonrestricted reporters as their assist begins to sunset.
    - Does it continue to make sense to have commanders involved in UCMJ actions? What is gained or lost by their involvement? How should we structure the military justice system?
    Commanders are and should continue to be involved in UCMJ actions, it’s the foundation of our service. However, commanders should be prevented from overturning jury convictions with the wave of a wand and each SA case should automatically go to courts martial. The overturning of a jury conviction should be recommended by commanders, to a higher approval authority such as SecDef. In the end, SecDef must answer to Congress and the litmus test would be astronomically high. I don’t agree it should be whole sale removed from the military justice system. I believe our system is overwhelmingly fair for most instances, and in many cases, far harsher than our civilian counterparts. Civilian police would not even bother with half of the cases we try or punish through nonjudicial actions.
    - Does it make sense to expand the Air Force pilot program of providing legal counsel to victims of sexual assault to all services?
    Yes, absolutely.
    - We have a myriad of prevention programs? What works? How do we tell?
    What works is training, documenting training, and then very publicly prosecuting and making an example of offenders. No one wants to be that “guy/gal”.
    - Alcohol seems to be a major factor here. Is that true? What can we do to address alcohol abuse and binged drinking?
    Yes, alcohol, and to a lesser extent drugs, is a major factor. It’s a fine line to deglamorize alcohol and yet provide a healthy outlet for adults. This is a difficult nut to crack.
    What issues are those of us in the Beltway ignoring?
    When even very senior AF leaders look at various stats and openly say “we’re there, we’ve effectively eliminated discrimination” (exact quote), sir, we are not there. Just because a promotion statistic says, hey, we’re good here…we are not. 32K confiscated items during a morale inspection speaks volumes.

    Train the force, don’t allow the boys club to determine if something is assault or not (victim blame is alive and well), and mandatorily separate those convicted. Remove a GOs ability to overturn jury convictions because he/she is a “good guy/gal” and “more credible”. A JURY disagreed. Where is Wilkerson now…oh, he’s a more credible guy who hid an affair and the child that resulted. And the Capt at Vandenburg, more credible? Great job three star(s).

    • Chuck Blanchard

      Really appreciate the very detailed comments!

    • Old AF guy

      Great comment … would add that Air Force generals seem to have more perks now than ever before and that there are too many of them … still cannot believe that we have as many or maybe more four stars as we had when I was in Vietnam and the Air Force had around 900,000 … Air Force is too top heavy

  • http://www.facebook.com/DrChuck59 Donald C Kowalewski

    Thank you for the opportunity to post

  • yaahoo2u2

    With regards to any processes aimed at reducing sexual assaults, the legal system needs to seize ownership away from the crowd preaching more training, group sessions, CBTs, etc. Those techniques are not working and piss off the vast majority of airmen who do not commit or condone sexual assault. The majority tune out during these training sessions because it simply does not apply to their lives, the material is boring as hell, or the instructors are simply poor at their job. But this doesn’t stop our leaders who try to impress Congress with statistics of how many trained, how many hours, etc. Take investigations and punishment away from commanders who are too busy with all of the other minutia dealt them by the AF. Punish, punish, punish the offenders with zero regard to the impact on their lives and families because they made that choice. Publish, publish, publish the details to ensure other airmen know what will happen. I realize it would be better if airmen did not commit sexual assault because they believe it is morally wrong. But that ain’t working. Quit trying to change the moral beliefs of airmen and just work to convince them that the gates of hell will open up on their asses if they choose to violate the law.

  • Ryan Williams

    Sir,

    Thank you for opening this discussion up to the public. I worked on several military sexual assault trials as a law clerk and have been following this specific topic for some time. For an institution the celebrates and valorizes leadership, the fact that sexual assaults are still so prevalent within it, shows an unmistakable failure to lead in this particular arena. When the military creates and has some of the
    finest leaders in the world, why is this?

    My first thought goes to the way in which the leaders are trained here. Is the military sexual assault prevention training effective? Or is it
    another bombard of PowerPoint presentations? One of the commentators believes it’s the later. If I am not mistaken, sexual assault training has been a major focus for at least ten years.
    Based off of the recent data, whatever has been done should be regarded as an abject failure. I have seen two ideas recently that could be incorporated into future trainings so they are more successful: first, ban PowerPoints to differentiate this topic from other trainings. Amazon may be a good example- . Second, instead
    of throwing numbers and statistics around, break major points of emphasis down to individual stories. In a different context, Stanford University shows this works with grabbing people’s attention
    - . For example, c/os could bring veterans in who wish to tell their story to current service members.

    It is also without a doubt that alcohol is a major contributor to these assaults. In several of the cases I worked on, either the victim or assailant (or both) had in excess of twenty drinks in a single night. The question that jumps out at me is how did these service members get so
    intoxicated? Bases should work with local bars / liquor stores asking that they not serve any more drinks to visibly intoxicated patrons. Like many fraternities today, kegs should be banned at military gatherings and in housing. Most importantly, leaders should teach young service members how to drink without becoming severely intoxicated. This is a societal problem no doubt, but there needs to be more done here besides the “Don’t be that guy” campaign.

    The current command climate also leads to several other problems. Many lawmakers and scholars are pushing for an independent command authority for sexual assault cases. However, does this make sense? On the one hand, there will be more and more cases in which unlawful command influence will be a defense. See e.g., . However, will this lead to a more detached
    command? Or a more confused command, where the buck gets passed down the road? Maybe the solution is mandatory reporting to SAPRO and to criminalize any failure to report like in child sex abuse cases along with an independent command authority.

    Finally, I highly suggest you, or someone on your staff watch the symposium on Sexual Assaults and Rape in the Military that Professor Beth Hillman, who was appointed to the newly created DOD Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel, ran earlier this year at UC Hastings. The link is: and the
    video begins at the 35 minute mark.

    I wish I had more time to dedicate to this topic, but those are my brief thoughts. Again, thank you for opening this up to the public.

  • http://twitter.com/ishe4rl Marcus

    Sexual Assault and all other discriminating behaviors is wrong. I speak from a personal view and first off….YES the power should be took away from commanders. It’s hard to be impartial when you have direct knowledge of the alleged and offended parties. There should also be steps in place for allegations that are the same. What I mean by that is if Security Forces OSI or whomever will investigate they must do this across the board for the victims and the accused. I know from personal experience that this is not the case. Commanders use tools at their discretion when it is in their best interest. Also and this is a touch road I’m traveling here but Integrity is subjective to opportunity. Yes people lie, embellish and falsify to harm others. It happens and it happened to me and I even requested a Subject Matter Expert (SME) prior to the investigation and it was denied. Even though the AFI (EO) says that they must be involved. My then Commander said that he wanted it to be handled in house. Only to wait 4 months and have the accuser(s) and their witness interviewed/questioned by Security Forces and I was not afforded the same opportunity. Furthermore I was moved from my residence, and to further disenfranchise me, I was not given the investigation on the da I was offered the charges. Mind you…..I was offered NJP on New Years eve while stationed abroad. The allegations were found as unsubstantiated and I was still charged, found guilty, and screwed royally. There were lies and I had a part in this but I did not assault anyone, and the evidence said I did not.

    This happens often to the accused the entire justice system is stripped away regardless of what the allegations say….substantiated or unsubstantiated. This is why I say take the power away from commanders. They make their careers off of this, and end others justly or unjustly.

    Lastly, the Sec of DOD wants rescreening and take a re-look at those applying for this job. I recommend doing this dual-hatted have someone from both sides look at the cases. A person that has been accused and someone with a clean record. That way you can get differing views prior to making judgement. I’m stained at Seymour Johnson AFB so look me up on global if you have questions……Marcus

  • Dr Z

    The AF should expend more effort on reducing the possibility of becoming a victim. The intent is not to blame the victim but give a potential victim the tools and education to avoid being victimized. For example, new recruits at basic training should be taught not to meet with a training instructor without someone else being present. The policy is already in place, but does the potential victim know about the rule? Our strategy in the past has been to train the general population about the consequences of becoming a perpetrator. The perpetrator is only part of the equation.

  • Retired in Spokane

    Drinking merely brings to the surface attitudes that are part of a “man’s world” culture. This problem will not abate until a “man’s world” is replaced by an attitude that women are partners, not targets. This applies not just to servicewomen but all women. Right now, I suspect that Sexual Assault Prevention Officer is an additional duty that gets attention only when it’s time to give the mandatory annual lecture to the troops. There is also a culture of officers protecting their own, because “there but for the grace of God go I” and because “we need all the good officers we can get.” It’s time to appoint some officers to work on this problem as their sole duty, including both female officers to handle allegations by female troops and male officers to handle allegations by male troops. Additionally, take drastic action when sexual harassment is established. End careers, put offenders in prison, and make these penalties widely known. Finally, emphasize by both words and actions that women are equal partners both in military service and in personal relationships.

  • Nicole Battaglia

    I completely agree with a lot of the comments that are presented, but I feel they are missing the point. All of the training we receive today focuses on the fact that the assault has already happened; protection for the victim, rights of the accused- but nothing in the training focuses on prevention. For so long our training consisted of listening to leadership tell men “don’t rape” and teaching women how to defend themselves. I shouldn’t have to defend myself at work- I should be able to do my job and go home, and by telling all the men in ranks “don’t rape” you are basically calling them all rapists and so in some way they start to think “well they already think of me that way.” Also, by telling all the women how to defend themselves, I swear I know 14 ways to stop someone with a set of keys, you victimize us in front of everyone we work with. This victimization, compiled with an already men heavy workplace and men’s already “stronger sex” instinct makes it really hard for them not to view woman as the weaker sex or some that can be easily victimized. In essence all the training is making us more of a target.
    You are never going to keep those “predators” from doing exactly what they set out to do, but you could prevent the guy from viewing the women he works with as weak and that might prevent some cases.
    The other root cause is that the sexual assault training is handed to the next guy whose turn it is to present training and they stand up there and read power point slides and then it is over. There is no discussion- there is no participation- it is just an uncomfortable slide deck. We never discuss the culturally accepted view “wait for the end of the night and all the girls will be drunk.” Why aren’t we teaching that is wrong? Sexual assault is not an easy topic, but it needs to get messy and uncomfortable if it is ever going to be truly prevents and not just “dealt with.”
    As a woman in the military I feel that the change has to start at the top. Throughout my 17 years (and yes I have been a victim and was afraid to report) I hear things from leadership that are completely contrary to promoting a healthy work environment. They laugh at the cases when they think no one is listening, they don’t believe the victim, they don’t follow up when the case is over and truly speak out about the wrongness of the crime. It is just swept away like a blemish on the unit and not dealt with. I was told, in my situation, “you don’t want to pursue this, it will not be good for your career,” which completely deterred me from pursuing it further- but I do regret not turning that guy in and I don’t kow if he has hurt anyone else. I hear senior leaders walk into a wardroom or ready room and say “hey ladies” to a group of men, or they call each other p***ies and that demeans the female gender and tells junior people that it is ok to demean the opposite sex. Is a cultural thing? I doesn’t have to be, but it is also how men view women and we allow it everyday, men call each other pimps and studs and that is acceptable- there are no acceptable terms for a woman that does the same as a man.
    My last point is that there are no senior women or woman at all on any of these panels. It feels like it is just a group of men sitting around trying to solve a female problem- even though it is not a female problem. But it is still very senior people, most of them extremely out of touch with what goes on in the ranks of operational squadrons, ships, etc that are putting together training and ways to combat this problem. I extend one of the basic principles of leadership- know your people- and no offense to the senior leadership, but when you haven’t been close to the ranks in a long, long time, you are not the one to decide how to combat a sexual assault problem of people that 15-20 years your junior.

    • Chuck Blanchard

      I really appreciate your honest feedback about training. It is consistent with what I have heard from others. You “from the filed” perspective is exactly why I opened up this forum.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pat.shediack Pat Shediack

    I’m a retired chief master sergeant and I’m appalled at the sexual assault situation in today’s military. It reflects a breakdown in good order and discipline, especially when victims fear coming forward and commanders throw out court-martial convictions based on their own beliefs. Even worse, it appears victims are being made out to having created their own situations or these crimes are not considered that serious.
    The solutions will start with putting leaders on legal notice they are being held accountable for their actions once a sexual assault occurs.
    A good first step would be to appoint the first general officer in a victim’s chain command as the “Commander-in-Chief’s advocate for the victim” with full Presidential delegation of authority to use any required resource or contact any person in the Federal government on the behalf of the victim. Direct communications with the service chief of staff, service secretary, SECDEF and the President should also be authorized for this advocate. In this way, the victim has someone who to paraphrase the President, “has got the victim’s back”. Right now, no one does with any real authority.
    A second step would be to remove sexual assault cases from the misdemeanor disposition arena of Article 15, UCMJ.
    A third step would be to prosecute any interference in the reporting or prosecution of a sexual assault case or retaliation upon a victim as a violation of Article 134, UCMJ, as obstruction of justice.
    A fourth step would be to prosecute any concealment of even the suspicion of a sexual assault as as violation of Article 134, UCMJ, misprison of a felony.
    A fifth step would be to prosecute any commander who fails to implement and maintain a zero-tolerance environment for sexual assault as violating Article 134, UCMJ, reckless endangerment.
    A sixth step would be to mandate commander-initiated reporting through command posts, just like Dull Swords and other situations, from when the crime is first reported until final disposition.
    Once these actions are put in place, the next step would be rebuilding good order and discipline in the ranks:
    The first step would be downward directed announcements by video and in writing of zero tolerance for sexual assault. A joint SECAF/CSAF/CMSAF video would be a great way for the AF to start this effort followed by a written memo. Beleive or not, the “three flag” memos get people’s atttention in the field.
    The second step is referring all sexual assault cases to general court-martial just as we did in the 1980s with drug cases with no use of Article 15s, letters of reprimand and so forth.
    The third step would be prohibiting retaliation against or sexual history investigation of sexual assault victims, as often happens now, under the premise the victim may have violated the UCMJ.
    The fourth step would be unit level training on sexual assault just like we do with suicide prevention.
    An AF-wide stand-down may be needed for this fourth step to give it the proper impact.

    • Chuck Blanchard

      Thanks for such detasiled and extensive recommendations!

    • Old AF guy

      Chief … Bingo! Your comments about someone having the victim’s back are spot on!!! Thinking of that poor woman whose assaulter was stationed where she was … think it was the conviction the male AF three star over turned …

      • Keo R. Gathman

        I’m a 54 year old female Marine Corps veteran and I worked for a Lt Col who was the Air Station Human Relations Officer. When he found out I was being stalked by a male Marine I did not know the proverbial shit hit the fan. Knowing he had my back made a huge difference at the time.

  • Chuck Blanchard

    I received the following comments by email from an Air Force JAG officer, and with the permission of the officer am posting them here for all to read and react to:
    The issue that is missing from the public discussion is the role alcohol and unsupervised consumption of alcohol in our dorms plays in sexual assaults.

    Our dorms are co-ed and contain Airmen ranging in age from 18 through their mid-20s. Unlike college students, they also are being provided with their base pay, room and board, giving them disposable income that allows them to purchase alcohol or obtain it from Airmen that are of legal age. Alcohol is a regular feature of socialization in the dorms (both in rooms and among occupants that go out for the evening to off-base parties and bars) and it is available cheaply and in quantity from the AAFES Class Six stores. For many Airmen, many just out of High School, this is their first time living on their own and it is where they learn to socially interact with each other. Most, if not all of our dorms for Airmen that are out of initial training or tech school are unsupervised. Our dorm residents are the most vulnerable to assault and/or are the ones most likely to use poor judgment and engage in inappropriate or illegal activities, including sexual assault.
    Unfortunately, too often that opportunity is acted on. A review of sexual assault complaints received by AFOSI and SF, either Air Force-wide or at any base with dorm population, will support this proposition.

    My experience is also that many commanders are hesitant to impose the oversight necessary over the dorms to address late-night or after hours alcohol use because they do not want Airmen to feel as though the command is intruding onto their personal time. As a result, while there are occasional patrols by Security Forces and/or inspections, no responsible NCO or the equivalent of a college resident assistant is on site 24 hours a day to monitor behavior and address alcohol use among dorm residents. If you go to any college in the United States you will find a 24 hour physical presence in every dorm, especially dorms that are co-ed. They would react with disbelief if it was suggested that a dorm they owned and operated would be without a responsible person present 24 hours a day to ensure that the occupants were abiding by their rules and were safe from harm.

    When Airmen reach the point where they can move out of the dorms (which most do as quickly as possible) the alcohol consumption goes along with them and, unfortunately the parties move off-base and into locations where the command cannot conduct oversight. The only way to address the aftermath of this alcohol consumption among on-base dorm residents is to have someone there to observe what happens when they come home from a night out. Having someone there will also facilitate reporting. Dorm monitor would not be not the greatest AFSC, however, it seems that this is a necessary step at this point. I’m not a proponent of “dry” Air Force nor do I believe that we should treat Airmen like small children or be forced to live in single sex dorms, however, my observation and professional opinion is that if the service is at a crisis point, we need to address the root causes of the problems and risk having Airmen complain about having a resident dorm monitor or (at the extreme) having to move into single sex dorms.

    Bottom Line – if you want to start addressing sexual assaults among enlisted personnel (our most vulnerable group) you have to get control of the dorms on base, including the use of alcohol by the people living there. Once you do so, that will have the effect of reducing the number of incidents that start off-base and then come back to the dorms. It will have a cascading effect on overall numbers of sexual assaults as Airmen perceive that the command cares what they do when they go out and after hours.

    • http://www.facebook.com/pat.shediack Pat Shediack

      We used to have 24/7 “dorm monitors” — they were called the “Charge of Quarters” or CQ–on an additional duty (squadron detail) basis.
      Unfortunately, today’s manning documents probably do not provide the necessary manhours for staffing CQs again on an additional duty basis. Manning trade-offs would be needed to re-implement CQ AF-wide.
      For a variety of reasons starting with career progression, a “dorm monitor” AFSC is impractical. (And yes, I pulled my share of CQ days during my AF career.)

  • BBB

    Follow the example of MADD

    They pushed for punishments and enforcements which are
    critical but they also didn’t stop there.
    They heightened awareness which it appears the military is doing and they
    did more. What is more compelling being
    told “don’t drink and drive” or hearing from someone who lost a loved one due
    to drunk driving? Or the effect it had
    on the life of the drunk who killed someone?
    Find victims (probably best ones from outside of the military) willing
    to share their stories. Find family
    members of victims to talk about the effects they experienced when a loved one
    was assaulted. Perhaps commanders should
    be required to listen in on calls to anonymous rape hotlines (not one for
    reporting, ones like suicide hotlines).
    No one has any reason to call with a fake story. It will reinforce – this is real. This is not whining. This is not revenge. There surely are cases of false accusations
    but I think people think they are more frequent than they actually are.

    What else did MADD do?
    They sought the assistance of the general public – “friends don’t let
    friends drive drunk” recognizing the ‘offender’ wasn’t always in the best position
    to stop themselves. Soldiers don’t let
    soldiers behave poorly. Soldiers stop a
    fellow soldier from having the one too many.
    Soldiers rein in someone ‘on the prowl’.
    Make it unacceptable to have a
    buddy out of control drunk. The buddy
    gets reprimanded too (granted a lesser punishment – but make it everyone’s
    responsibility).

    The message of how it effects military readiness is
    important. Do you want that soldier with
    a gun whose job it is to provide cover for another soldier be tempted to not provide that cover
    because that person has assaulted them?
    Recognize that the soldier needing cover might be on his/her way to cover
    you. If they don’t make it, you don’t make it. Most soldiers wouldn’t not perform but the
    potential should be on the minds of fellow soldiers. Do you want the soldier who is the best shot,
    not reenlist because of poor treatment or do you want that soldier in your
    unit?

    It must apply to everyone.
    Fellow soldiers. Civilians. The enemy.
    Prisoners.

    MADD has also advanced to emphasize that ‘buzzed driving’
    isn’t acceptable either. That ties in to
    what others are saying. Zero tolerance
    of sexual assaults of any kind. However
    I recommend when reporting stats that you separate physically forced assaults
    from inappropriate comments. I am not
    sure how to say this without sounding as if I am dismissive of ‘more minor’
    assaults. I am not. And I think when people report high
    statistics like 1 in 3 women have been the victim of sexual assault or they lump it in with harassment, that that is less powerful than 1
    in 5 women are raped and/or sodomized. 1
    in 5 is astounding and shows a real depth to the problem. People can dismiss the 1 in 3 assuming most
    of it are ‘lesser’ events. It is bad to
    have a superior make a lewd comment to you but it doesn’t have as much of an
    effect on you as a violent physical assault.
    Knowing 1 in 5 have life altering devastating attacks, I believe, still
    leads to an emphasis on preventing all inappropriate behavior as people then
    see the importance of creating an environment that sends a clear message that
    everyone should be treated with respect.
    If you think I am wrong, experiment.
    Use one stat with one group and another stat with another and see what
    gets you better results. I could be wrong.
    Find the most effective.

  • BBB

    A Wa-Po story today contained the following: “One group, led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), is pushing to overhaul the military justice system so that prosecutors, instead of commanders without legal training, have the authority to decide whether to investigate serious crimes and bring defendants to trial.

    Other lawmakers, however, said it was more important to hold commanders accountable for how they respond than to change the legal system.”

    I would say that it doesn’t need to be either or. How about commanders being required to bring in a prosecutor to advise them on the matter whenever there is an allegation. Make the process a little formal so there is a record but then it can be ultimately both the commander’s call and the commander’s orders that must be followed. This keeps the commander in charge, but presumably the commanders would also not only be better equipped to deal with the matter with the advice, but a commander’s decisions could be more easily reviewed by his/her superiors. With an official consult, a superior would know that there had been X allegations and if a particular commander’s patterns of response differ from average they can investigate to determine whether this commander is handling them inappropriately or something about this unit provides an atmosphere where it doesn’t happen but false allegations do. I am not in the military so maybe this already happens but I thought I would share the thought.

  • Chuck Blanchard

    Here is anopther comment that I received by email that I am posting with the permission of the sender:

    As background — I served on active duty as Army JAGC 1984-89, and IRR for 3
    additional years. My last 2 years of AD and my IRR were at the Pentagon, in
    OTJAG/Admin Law. Those 8 years or so were an interesting time to be on AD
    …long enough after the integration of women into the armed forces for the
    worst of the overt antipathy to have passed, but still early enough that
    there still seemed to be a fair degree of monitoring going on.

    Additionally, there was a concerted effort to change the hard-drinking image
    of servicemembers in general, which worked to reduce alcohol-related
    offenses of many types.

    Additionally, those were the days when the concept of sexual harassment as a
    litigable issue (in the civilian world) really began to make the news.
    (Meritor v. Vinson, in particular.) So, people were paying attention to the
    treatment of women in the workplace in ways they previously had not.

    I think, overall, that this confluence of events had the effect of
    protecting women in the military from the kind of abuse many of them now
    face. People were watching. Yes, I faced gender bias, but not physical
    assault. In that I was lucky.

    So, what’s changed?

    First, I think there has been an unfortunate willingness on the part of
    leadership to accept the kinds of behavior that create “hostile or
    offensive” workplaces, to use the term of art. The “boys will be boys,”
    “they’re just blowing off steam,” “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of
    the kitchen” excuses I too frequently read in comments are exactly the kind
    of mindset that permits abusive situations to arise.

    And when that first line requiring all servicemembers to be treated with
    respect isn’t drawn by leadership, then crossing other lines becomes that
    much easier. If telling dirty jokes, making sexual comments is okay, then
    copping a feel becomes easier. If no one takes the physical intrusion
    seriously, if there’s a slap on the hand — or worse, no discipline at all
    (or worst of all, if the leadership is the perpetrator) — then sexual
    assault of a higher degree becomes even that much easier.

    And the repeated refusal to take escalating abuse seriously has the
    unfortunate side effect of conditioning those targeted to believe they have
    to take it. They have to go along to get along. “It’s no big deal…”
    until it’s too late, and rape or other violence occurs — and even then,
    some victims are told it’s not that big a deal.

    The line, of course, has to be drawn at the beginning, at insisting all the
    way from the Secretary to the platoon leader — with consequences attached
    — that respect will be shown to all servicemembers regardless of gender,
    sexual orientation, or any of the other reasons some are perceived as bully
    bait.

    And leadership has to actually believe that these are serious issues. For
    all the recent media attention, I can practically see the eye rolls from
    those who think that because we’re at war, who cares if some chick gets
    roughed up. She was probably asking for it by insisting on being in the
    military in the first place. (See above on the heat/kitchen thing.)

    But as you seem to know (thank God), these are in fact serious issues, no
    less important than any other issue that threatens the welfare and morale of
    servicemembers.

    Segregating or eliminating women from service is no answer. We should be
    able to treat our colleagues with respect as a simple matter of good order
    and discipline, regardless of their chromosomes.

    So change has to come by changing the attitudes and behaviors of all
    servicemembers. And here are some ideas on how:

    1. Repeated, serious, specific training on behavior that is acceptable and
    unacceptable, and the consequences for violation of varying degrees. The
    consequences have to be specific and real, and people have to know and
    believe that they will be acted upon.

    This is going back to basics. And all levels of command (officers and
    NCOs) should be required to attend, and comprehend, the training before the
    first E-1 is required to sit down.

    (As a civilian in 1991, I did sexual misconduct prevention training with
    hundreds of firefighters who told me the new rules would make them hate
    working with women, would destroy morale, would make all the men quit, etc.,
    etc. Things were a bit rough for a while, but overall, and with repeated
    recapitulation of the rules, the much-feared parade of horribles did not
    come to pass.)

    2. Obviously, substance abuse prevention programs need to be stepped up.
    Look back at what worked to change the culture previously, and see if any of
    those efforts might translate to now.

    If fear of being caught drinking underage is an issue, offer amnesty for the
    drinking to any servicemember who self-refers for treatment (because if
    he/she is drinking underage — knowingly violating law and rule — then at a
    minimum, he/she should go through an evaluation and awareness training).

    Aside from the above, substance abuse and any other offense should be
    grounds for elimination or UCMJ action.

    3. A stovepipe organization ending under the supervision of TJAG or the GC
    should be established to provide victims’ assistance officers for any
    identified victim.

    While having an outside reporting point via RAAIN is good, servicemembers
    need someone inside the system to help them negotiate once a criminal or
    administrative case gets underway. But the VAO can’t be subject to the
    chain of command or there’s an unavoidable potential for pressure (conscious
    or otherwise) being brought to bear on the VAO and/or the victim.

    4. I have no overall objection to commanders being involved in UCMJ
    actions, but clearly — at least until trust in the system can be deservedly
    restored — commanders should not have the unfettered ability to decide the
    degree of action taken. Someone (the victim, trial counsel, VAO) who finds
    the proposed action objectionable as disproportionately light given the
    offense should have the ability to raise those concerns to a higher level.

    At this point, and again, based on the perceived unwillingness of commanders
    to zealously pursue cases, I would suggest a (one hopes) temporary process
    through which cases can be referred to TJAG, GC, or Secretary — someone
    high enough to have transparency and, quite frankly, clout.

    5. As a temporary measure, the provision permitting the convening authority
    to alter a finding or sentence should certainly be abated. It’s a recipe
    for cronyism and distrust, and it’s disrespectful to the attorneys, judge,
    and panel that actually heard the case.

    6. Finally, the very highest levels — military and civilian — of each
    service have to commit to the end of the “bad boy” dispositions. Those are
    the slap on the wrist, letter of reprimand, quiet change of command or
    retirement, actions that follow the commission of a sexual violation (or
    drunk driving, etc.) by someone high up the chain of command.

    That these cases happen is the worst-kept secret in the military. And their
    very existence compounds the problem at lower levels in the military chain
    of command. Not only does it create the appearance of favoritism and
    hypocrisy, it also says that at the bottom line, protecting the accused is
    way more important than protecting the accuser.

    So how is the Air Force or any other service surprised when that is the
    message that is internalized, by both the potential perpetrators and those
    on whom they prey?

  • Chuck Blanchard

    Another thoughtful email comment by a retired Col, who spent a great deal of time in the nuclear enterprise:
    I am responding to the request for input on “what (I) think it will take to reduce sexual assault in the military,” .

    Reducing any unwanted activity requires changing behavior. If behavior modification is successful, changes in thinking, reasoning and decision making can then follow. I would take you back to the origins of race relations training in the Air Force. All of us were required to attend training whether we wanted to or needed to. For those of us who didn’t need it, the training was a refresher. For those that did, the target audience, the training was a reminder of what you could and could not do. It didn’t matter whether you believed it was right or wrong, what mattered is that you learned the correct way to act. Obviously, the penalties for not acting according to the training were a part of the stimulus. But it was the training and the refreshers that made sure everyone knew exactly what was expected so far a actual behavior went. The idea was that getting one to act properly would result in changes in attitude that would reinforce the proper behavior. Many didn’t like the training but I would have to say it was successful. A similar approach using race relations training as a model could be applied to this problem.

    Another approach, or in conjunction with a race relations-like training program, is to introduce Air Force-wide, an overarching, continuous reliability monitoring program. Such a program would be based loosely upon the personnel reliability program used within the nuclear weapons arena. The Personnel Reliability Program or (PRP) as it’s known to those of us associated with nuclear weapons, is designed to ensure that only the most reliable people are allowed to work on or be in close proximity to nuclear weapons. As currently structured, the PRP may be too cumbersome and administratively burdensome to attempt to apply to all personnel in the Air Force. However, portions of the program could be adapted without too much strain or additional cost.

    For example, adopting the principle that everyone (in the Air Force) is responsible for everyone else’s behavior is something that is easily taught and could be incorporated into every Air Force training program. The program relies on the integrity and character of each member to observe the behavior of everyone associated with the mission (in the case of PRP it is the nuclear weapons business) and report any deviations that may impact on the safety, security and reliability of the weapons. The people within the nuclear business recognize the dangers associated with mistakes involving nuclear weapons and are more likely to report deviant behavior than those who are not in such sensitive programs. Given that in many sexual assault cases, previously unreported suspicious behavior on the part of the assailant(s) eventually come to light, it stands to reason that such a PRP-like program might have identified such behavior before an assault could take place. Personnel must be convinced that the mission depends upon reporting the behavior and that not reporting it would result in consequences – both for the potential assailant and the person who fails to report.

    The system must be no-fault, i.e., reporting the behavior does not result in backlash for the reporting party, and punishment is not necessarily taken against the person reported upon. Rather, if the behavior is indicative of potential sexual misconduct, the person is removed from duty and presented with an opportunity for behavior modification, i.e., counseling, retraining, etc., and eventual return to duty. If the behavior is actually illegal, then the person should be released from the Air Force anyway. Within the PRP, if implemented correctly, the reporting party sees his/her reporting of suspicious behavior as helping the other person while maintaining the integrity of the nuclear program. In fact, many instances of PRP temporary disqualifications helped to identify heretofore unknown problems that once known, could be worked by the commander, first sergeant, or referred to other Air Force programs.

    • Old AF guy

      Good comments, but the PRP program does not seem to be working too well at Minot right now

  • Old AF guy

    27 years Air Force, retired in 1994 … sat on a couple court martials … the process was very, very fair … the fact that not one, but two AF three stars reversed sexual assault court martial convictions leaves me really wondering about credibility of USAF leadership … young people I know who still serve seem to question leadership or worse, they seem to expect that their leaders have “feet of clay” … young woman friend who just separated maintains that sexual assault is rampant especially in Southwest Asia deployments … the Air Force is good at “talking the talk”, but until there is more credibility and ‘walking the walk” in leadership things will not change … it is much a leadership problem as it is a behavior problem …

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001071492384 Barry Chute

    Take investigations of reported sexual assaults away from Commanders. Alcohol is a problem! Alcohol & Sexual Assaults! Combine the topic while educating separately. I could go on but those are Top 2!

  • Old AF guy

    What really saddens me is when I think what the Wing Cmdrs at Kadena wudda said about it and many Colonels I worked for and
    most generals …They wudda said point blank (and I’m gonna be crude)
    “This s**t is gonna stop now. If it does not stop now, I will make it my
    business to get you out of this Air Force.” It happened at Kadena,
    that and some other stuff and a few people (mostly pilots) were
    out in a couple weeks. But, what would you expect in today’s Air Force which
    will not even allow units to fail Operational Readiness Inspections or
    Nuclear Surety Inspections any more. I’m too old. I sat on two court
    martials and did i don’t know how many investigations … sigh … AND
    those leaders would have walked through our work places and shown up at all
    hours, unannounced and without a retinue or “horse holders” to see what
    was going on

  • Old AF guy

    Chuck, I realize you are a lawyer, but did you ever serve on active duty?

    • Old AF guy

      and I have known and know many good lawyers so am not saying that to slam you

    • charlesblanchard

      No, I have not, which is big reason why I am seeking input from those who did serve or are serving.

  • guest

    This is a really difficult topic. It is tough to come up with a solution because of all of the factors. As many people have mentioned in the comments, you are more often dealing with young men and women, fresh out of high school, tasting freedom for the first time. Some of them weren’t taught that a drunken yes is not the same as a sober yes. Some of them won’t listen. Some of them are still young and stupid and don’t know what it means to be respectful, to face consequences, and to have empathy. Personally, I think if you want to know how to fix this, you need to ask the guilty. That would make for a great study and a great teaching tool. “Why did you do it?” “What would have stopped you?” Maybe have an anonymous online survey so they will be truthful and more forthcoming. I am no expert, but I do know that the problem lies with the assailant, not the victim.

  • Chuck Blanchard

    Another comment sent by email:

    Good day Sir and thank you for reaching out for comments/suggestions on how to reduce sexual assault. I admire your willingness to seek other opinions especially from such a diverse but interested group comprised of officers, enlisted and civilians.

    To give you a brief background; I’m getting ready to retire from civil servicehaving served for a combined military/civil service time of just under 45 years. I started in Vietnam and recently returned from an 18 month tour of duty in Afghanistan. My military service time encompassed 27 years. So with that being said you can see who and what generation is providing a response.

    Your first question about alcohol being a major factor is important. I would say alcohol is not an influence especially based upon recent experience in Afghanistan. General Order One prohibited alcohol use and still sexual assault was a problem. I do believe that there is some requirement to recognize that today’s generation is more liberal with relationships that those in the past. With that being said, I disagree with the Air Force Chief of Staff; reference his 7 May Congressional testimony to Congress on the ‘hook-up mentality’ as a causal factor; although, there is a part of that discussion that is worth further examination. I truly believe that the Chief was sincere in his later explanation that his statement in no way recused the assailant or accused the victim. I think both the wording and attempt at comparison was poorly delivered and the connection never materialized. But getting back to the issue of alcohol; I grew up in an Air Force where alcohol use and abuse were a ‘rite of passage’ sort of speak. As a young airman you were expected to drink and show bravado with woman; however, rarely did things get out of hand the way they do today. So what the Chief said about today’s young people may be partially correct in that the ability to conduct and control oneself when intoxicated was far better when I was a young airman than it appears to be today. Although, one thing we must be very careful of is not to blame a singular or multiple factors for criminal acts. Alcohol may be a contributing factor; but, alcohol doesn’t commit the act of sexual assault…the individual does.

    I truly believe that there is a reluctance on part of sexual assault victims to report the crime. More so today than yesterday; so I do feel victims are less comfortable reporting the crime. Commanders still tend to take the easiest way to remedy the problem by simply transferring an individual or convincing the victim that there is nothing to be gained by reporting the crime. This keeps them from scrutiny by their superiors and gets rid of the ‘problem’ by transferring the individual to another unit. It also takes any heat or exposure away from them altogether. One other problem with our current system is where the ‘convening authority’ has the power to reverse the findings of a Courts Martial. I knew very little about the legal system or lawyers (other than the jokes) until I was in the same office (in Afghanistan) with two lawyers (one from Justice Department and one Legal Advisor to an installation commander). Actually one was my roommate as well so I really got a lot of legal insight in 12 months. My understanding and appreciation for the ‘Rule of Law’ and the value of individuals who have been educated and trained in the application of the law was greatly expanded. Although I understand what constitutes legal advice knowing that it is just that “advice” I am appalled by the recent decision of the Lt Gen Franklin who overturned the conviction of the sexual assault victim in Germany and the Lt Gen Susan Helms decision to overturn a sexual assault conviction last year. I really believe that the authority given convening authorities might have been relevant in a different time under different circumstances; however, that authority needs to be removed and put back in judicial process. I truly believe decisions like these result in fewer sexual assault victims coming forward to seek assistance. With perception becoming reality; if one feels that regardless of a Courts Martial verdict the decision can and does get overturned … why bother.

    Finally, I believe that it is time for sexual assault cases to be handled outside the military altogether. Offering legal counsel to the victims is a good step in the right direction; however, until we pull the convening authority out of the decision process the perception will be continue to be that a legal decision by a jury of peers can be overturned by someone with no legal experience who has not heard any evidence presented at trial. Air Force and other Service Department leadership have had decades to resolve this issue and they have done an a terrible job. That has been demonstrated by their own admittance that sexual assault has reached a ‘crisis’ status in the military and will affect our recruiting and retention. Leadership has handled sexual assault so poorly that it is apparent Commanders continue to minimize this crime and encourage victims either not to report it or give them a reassignment of choice so they can move beyond the situation. With such an extended period of continued sexual assault and associated violence they have obviously lost control and are unable to reign in the problem. Unfortunately, this has bought the ‘sexual assault’ problem front and center in the court of public opinion and that is battle we are losing badly. The only way we are able to recover and get back on track is to demonstrate that the most Senior Leadership in the Air Force and all the Services no longer have any tolerance for sexual assault and then demonstrate that it will be dealt with swiftly, fairly and with unimpeded justice. There can be no exceptions, hesitation or examples that run counter to their imply policy. Unfortunately, these changes demand a shift in ‘culture’ from one where the problem apparently was not receiving adequate attention to where it is the ‘number one’ priority of each service Chief with zero tolerance. This means from the top brass in the Pentagon all the way to the flight commander — attention, focus and enforcement must begin yesterday and continue unabated until the situation is extracted.

    Cultural shifts take time in the military and we don’t have time to lead turn this mess; the public will not wait and the Congress demands immediate action. Unfortunately, with each passing day another situation tends to pop up so we can’t recover from the initial occurrence before facing more accusations. It is now beyond the military’s ability; especially the Air Force to convince a furious President, Congress and public that they are able or willing to stop this heinous crime in its tracks.

    The military justice system now must accept assistance and oversight from Congress when it comes ‘sexual assault.’ Our inaction has bought us to this point and there is no one to blame except ourselves.

    Thank you again for allowing me to express my opinion,

  • Keo R. Gathman

    I know a lot has been written about the long term effects of Military Sexual Trauma on female veterans. Most won’t speak openly about the sexual abuse or harassment. You see we learned that if we did speak openly that even the other females turned on us. So we swallowed all the horrors. I was lucky, I woke up to find a man standing at the foot of my rack and when I lunged for him he was so unnerved he ran out the door, down the corridor and out the window. When the MPs arrived they found the failed “panty raid” hilarious. When a male Marine I had never met stalked me my OIC (he was the Air Station Human Relations Officer) made it more than clear to that Marine’s CO there would be no more harassment. Then in 1978 I was home on leave for the 8th anniversary of my brother’s murder in Vietnam by another soldier in his platoon. Two days later when I checked back in at the Air Station I was told that my friend had gone UA with two male Marines. Her body was found in a ditch in another state. Her killers were turned over to the state and that was that. There was no memorial, no counseling, she was discarded like a two week old hefty bag full of garbage. When her father came the other Woman Marines advised me not to go speak to him because to be associated with a female Marine who was a problem to the Corps was trouble. To this day I regret not telling him his daughter had a friend who cared. It was 24 years and 5 VA surveys before I told anyone about any of it. So here’s the story. I was lucky but when I told a veteran who served with my brother in Vietnam that I lived in a barracks surrounded by a razor wire topped fences and floodlights his response was “My God, you lived in a POW camp.”

    Edited to add that my brother’s killer was court martialed and sentenced to 15 years in Leavenworth for the murder of my brother and their 1st Sgt.

  • Karsten Haake

    I think identifying Soldiers that have a propensity to assault. For example the language they use, pictures, movies they watch, jokes etc. Not sure what the leading indicators are, but after we investigate these assaults there are common leading indicators.

    So what do we do? We’ll we already counsel/coach/mentor. It is a a command requirements that we are horrible at. We are horrible, because no one ever checks those dates on counseling sheets, on NCOERs or OER support forms. The lack of dates are an indication that raters and senior raters don’t really know the officer. Leaders have no skin in the game.

    In addition, a Soldiers peers have no skin in the game either. Tolerate the behavior and nothing happens you are the cool guy.

    I propose a system of vouching for Soldiers by leaders and peers. This will be harder than the 360 eval, that is virtually useless because of lacking command influence.

    Every Soldier in a leadership position must have one or two leaders professionally vouch for a Soldier. They must also have peers that vouch for them.

    We have asked the same of Afghans and Iraqis with some success to prevent violence.

    The vouching system forces Soldiers and leaders to get to know one another. There are professional penalties for a bad vouch. Sorry. There are professional benefits for good vouches, good leadership and good mentorship.

    Those that can’t get someone to vouch for them, need to look at their behavior to see why they can’t find someone that is willing to risk their career on them not being a sexual predator.

    I realize this is a really broad concept, with little detail. But its my idea.

  • KAREN MOCK

    The rise in sexual assaults in the Air Force stems from a break down in good order and discipline. Supervisors at every level are responsible for the men and women placed under their command. Instead of mentorship, leadership and enforcement of standards I see noncommissioned officers who are more concerned about promotion than actually fulfilling their responsibilities to lead and enforce standards. I’ve witness senior noncommissioned officers more concerned about rubbing shoulders with flag and general officers instead of really connecting with our Airmen to find out what’s happening in the field and getting the pulse of the enlisted force. The same goes for officers. There’s a lack of mentorship, leadership and enforcement of the standard within the commissioned ranks as well. I think if we get back to the fundamentals you’ll find that a lot of these problems will diminish. Stop promoting folks who care more about their next rank and less about the troops, it will allow our young men and women to feel more comfortable coming forward with complaints and have faith the problem will be addressed swiftly and fairly. It’s all about taking care of your folks.

  • Brian Lewis

    What does the DoD know about male survivors? The answer is not much. About 90 percent of men choose not to report. What gender specific services are available for men? The answer again is not much. Who has the DoD partnered with to help understand male survivors of sexual assault in the military? The answer is no one because no organization exists which is completely dedicated to male survivors of military sexual trauma. Learning more about male survivors and creating gender specific services would seem to be a good step for the military. Maybe then we could learn more about this population.

    Perhaps the service should consider restricting disposition authority further. Allowing an O-6 to have disposition authority does not remove the issue from the immediate chain of command. Stop the embarrassment at the local unit level by restricting disposition authority to the Secretary of the Air Force or the Chief of Staff. At that level, there will be no personal knowledge of the accused or offender. I believe the only solution is to remove the issue totally from the chain of command, but that is a legislative solution.

    I am a survivor. I want to help. Yet the Air Force has not reached out to military sexual trauma survivor organizations to let us, the survivors, help you. Perhaps building bridges in that regard would help.

    Mandate watching “The Invisible War” for now and “Justice Denied” once it premieres in June. People need to hear survivors tell their stories.

  • AFofficer

    Sir, I am a female AF officer and pilot and I call BS on all of these posts. The military has it all wrong. It’s not alcohol consumption, it’s not commander authority over the UCMJ, it’s not victim advocacy. All of these things are blame tactics for the actual problem (and its a societal problem, not just a military problem) personal responsibility. Someone has to take a stand from our “I have to go see my therapist about this” mentality and stand up and say it- I screwed up and I do not have the tools to fix it. Our military members need the tools to fix their problems. Authority needs to be given back to the lowest common denominator. Over the last 16 years I have been in the military, I have seen a slow errosion of command authority and military rank structure. In the AF, the lowest rank that can issue an LOR is the Squadron Commander. Accountability will never be maintained when only one person is in charge of issuing consequences. Men and women are oversexualized, undersocialized and not being held accountable for their actions- because no one is allowed to hold anyone else accountable. Our public hears another story about sexual assault and they look to our President and our Congress to fix the problem. What about our Sergeants and our Lieutenants? Let’s not usurp command authority, let’s not over victimize our women (and men) and let’s not over criminalize our military members. Stop adding more measures to protect our women and ther potential victims and focus on making them more self confident, more capable of setting boundaries and expectations, and more valued in the workplace. Let’s get away from the idea that we have to coddle our victims and instead give them the training and confidence to not be victims in the first place!

  • SpaceBob

    The problem is behavioral and will respond to reward/punishment. The AF core values, ethics, and training have guided 97% of us to behave at or above expectations of those we serve with and for so, why are the other 3% getting away with bad behavior? I believe it’s because we don’t self-police. There are many valid reasons for “not getting involved” but they are all rooted in the fear of reprisals or being ostracized. So, we need an “App for that” on our desktops, laptops, and mobile devices where we can report bad behavior discreetly.