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ACC sexual assault teams assessments lead to corrective actions

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (ACCNS) -- (ACCNS) There are more sexual assaults occurring in Air Combat Command than are being reported, according to an ACC report released today that provided an unprecedented look into the climate of the command.


The internal look began in March after Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force vice chief of staff, tasked each major command to assess sexual assault response programs at each of its installations, report findings and make recommendations for improvement.


In response, Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, former ACC Commander, appointed three teams to visit all ACC bases in the continental United States, and a fourth team to visit forward-deployed locations. The Sexual Assault Assessment Teams gathered information in four areas: education and training, reporting procedures, response programs, and program oversight.


The teams took a snapshot of Airmens perceptions regarding sexual assault and how they were handled by the command. The information gathered was anecdotal and came from small focus groups representative of installation personnel such as first sergeants, dorm residents, junior enlisted personnel, senior enlisted personnel and officers. Team members did not ask participants if they were sexually assaulted and how their case was handled.
Besides the team visits, ACC leaders wanted to give Airmen a way to provide anonymous feedback on the sexual assault and harassment climate in the command and at ACCs deployed locations.


"Our people are my top priority," said Lt. Gen. Bruce A. Wright, current ACC Commander and Vice Commander at the time the assessment began. "The standard is clear: sexual assault and harassment are inconsistent with our core values and impede our ability to perform our mission."


With this as a charter, ACC created, and the Air Force Personnel Center administered, a personal safety survey to 89,604 Airmen command-wide March 25-April 7. Nearly 26,000 individuals provided anonymous feedback to supplement the SAAT findings. Results of the survey indicate there are more sexual assaults occurring in the command than are being reported.

 

The Air Force Office of Special Investigations examined 103 alleged sexual assaults throughout ACC in Fiscal Year 2003. However, 228 women and 84 men participating in the survey believed they had been sexually assaulted, most in the past 12 months. The questionnaire defined sexual assault not only as rape and forcible sodomy but also indecent assault, which is touching someone in a sexual manner without their consent.


The absence of an agreed upon definition of sexual assault between agencies that work this issue and the lack of a common understanding of what violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice constitute sexual assault make it difficult to track numbers accurately. How a case is characterized often depends on the individual facts.


"For example, from a legal perspective, whether an incident is a sexual assault often depends on the assailants intent," said Maj. Brynn P. Morgan, ACC Assistant Staff Judge Advocate and SAAT member. "The victim may believe the assault was a sexual one, but the assailant may be found guilty of only assault rather than an indecent assault."


While tracking accurate numbers was identified as a clear challenge, command experts say theres little doubt of the usefulness of providing Airmen an avenue to provide anonymous feedback on the sexual assault climate within the command and to supplement the SAAT visits, according to Major Morgan.


"We wanted to know who was being assaulted, who was committing the assaults, and how aware our Airmen were of programs available to assist them," the major said. "With nearly 26,000 Airmen responding were pleased with the sheer volume of inputs and the opportunity it gives us to address the issues identified."


Of the incidents identified by respondents to the personal safety survey, 75 percent were categorized as indecent acts or assaults; 12 percent as rape; 2 percent as forcible sodomy and 11 percent as some combination of the above.


The SAAT report also cited two areas for improvement: the implementation of standardized education programs focused on preventing sexual assaults and creation of a climate where sexual assault victims are confident they can report the crime to commanders and receive effective support.


Explanations for the lack of reporting of sexual crimes covered a wide spectrum, said Col. Edward T. Dixon, ACC Director of Personnel and one of four team chiefs responsible for assessing the commands sexual assault response programs. The most common reason given for limited reporting was a perceived lack of privacy that resulted when sexual assault victims reported the crimes to military authorities.


"We wanted to ensure we gave ACC senior leadership and the wing commanders the most accurate and usable information possible," Colonel Dixon said. "This report provides us more information than weve ever had to focus our efforts on deterring assaults and providing necessary support to the victims."


Based on all the MAJCOM inputs, Air Education and Training Command officials are developing an Air Force-wide program to inform people about what constitutes sexual assault, appropriate preventive measures and the reporting process.


ACC initiatives include a recently released video on preventing sexual assault titled, "Choices Have Consequences." Another initiative is a brochure template commanders can use to publicize their local reporting procedures and victim support services.


To help foster an environment where each Airman feels safe, ACC is also working to improve its dormitories.


"Our goal is for all ACC Airmen to believe they can be part of the solution by respecting their fellow Airmen and taking care of each other in their units work and living environments, on and off base," Colonel Dixon added. "On base, a key to our Airmens safety is strong leadership involvement; commanders, officers, senior NCOs and our front line NCO supervisors."


ACC will release an interim dormitory policy soon that mandates self-locking dorm room doors, and requires regular random inspections by unit leadership. The policy also reintroduces NCO residents in the dorms to ensure leadership oversight and visibility.
While the Air Force and ACC have already begun taking actions to address the issues identified in the Air Force and MAJCOM reports, this is the first time ACCs bases will have the opportunity to see the commands Sexual Assault Assessment Teams findings and results of the personal safety survey.


"We all have a role to play," General Wright said. "We need to educate ourselves, enforce our standards of decency and conduct, and correct inappropriate behavior at all levels."
 

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