How the Air Force is fighting sexual assault, post-Lackland scandal
The sexual assault scandal at Lackland Air Force Base, the subject of a House hearing Wednesday, is prompting the service to grapple with the need for change. Here's an inside look at how the Air Force is going about it.
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On dry erase boards and PowerPoint slides around the room are names of programs that the Air Force is using to try to impart the unacceptability of assault and disrespect to its troops. They run the spectrum from “Frank: The Undetected Rapist” to “Street Smarts: You Deserve to be Here” to “Sex Offenders, Service Members, and You: Leadership Beyond the Obvious.”
Conversation turns to “hunting season” at the Air Force Academy, the time when underclassmen have completed their first year of schooling and are then allowed to date upperclassmen.
“That would offer a really good opportunity for conversation: ‘What do you think of that term?’ Let’s talk about maybe why we don’t want that in our culture anymore,” says Anne Munch, an attorney and sexual assault prevention consultant for the Pentagon.
“That’s a really good idea,” says Murrie.
“And how does this idea coincide with the idea of being a wingman?” adds another meeting attendee. The Air Force has been emphasizing the notion of bystander intervention, the idea that when a fellow airman is being harassed, someone should step in and stop it.
“Or being a leader? You can’t be a hunter on a base, either,” says Murrie. “How do you recognize the hunters that key in on new people on a base?”
A few days later, at the House Armed Services Committee, these same questions came from lawmakers, who recounted stories of new Air Force recruits being directed to meet their trainers in laundry rooms and broom closets, where they were sexually assaulted and raped.
Welsh told lawmakers he is combing through programs to try to figure out what works, and what doesn’t.
He testified that he has asked staff to “bring in something new” every week. “Something we haven’t tried, some idea they found somewhere else from a member of Congress, from an advocacy group, from a university or another service that tried something that seemed to work at a certain base or a certain demographic group,” he said.
On Friday, the Air Force announced that it had conducted a sweep of more than 100 installations for pornography and other offensive materials, from videos and calendars to coffee mugs and song lyrics.
“While these things may or may not directly relate to sexual assault, they certainly do create an environment more conducive to sexual harassment and unprofessional relationships, and I personally believe that both of those are leading indicators for sexual assault,” Walsh said Wednesday.
“We have to do everything possible to prevent this. We can’t accept this,” he added. “It’s horrible, and we all know that.”