The US Air Force – and the military in general – has a massive problem with sexual assault and they apparently think one of the solutions is telling potential victims to submit rather than resist their attackers.
In a brochure issued to personnel at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina obtained by Danger Room, potential victims are told, “It may be advisable to submit [rather] than to resist,” if they are attacked.
This comes just a day after it was reported that Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force’s now former chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, was arrested for sexual assault.
The brochure contains several “risk reduction” recommendations and Sgt. Alexandria Mosness, a public affairs officer at Shaw, said that she thinks the brochure is current.
Late last year the Department of Defense released a report indicating that reports of sexual harassment and assault have continued to increase at military academies.
An Air Force investigation last year also identified 31 female cadets who were allegedly sexually assaulted by their trainers at a Texas base. Clearly, this is no small problem for the military.
The brochure advises individuals being sexually assaulted in parking lots to “consider rolling underneath a nearby auto and scream loud. It is difficult to force anyone out from under a car.”
When jogging or walking, the brochure recommends “rick [sic] reduction” measures like, “Walk confidently and at a steady pace.”
Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman points out that the brochure “does not offer instruction to servicemembers on not committing sexual assault. Prevention is treated as the responsibility of potential victims.”
Brian Purchia, the spokesman for Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group raising awareness of sexual assault within the military, called the brochure “an affront to victims.”
“The Air Force should be passing out pamphlets to our men and women in uniform on how not to commit sexual assault. … This brochure is just the latest in a long history of failed programs and policies,” Purchia said to Danger Room. “The military’s sexual assault prevention campaigns are rooted in a wrong headed 1950′s paradigm”
While Purchia recognizes that rape-crisis counselors at times advise that there are certain circumstances in which fighting back against an assailant is not recommended, it should not be applied across the board.
“You can always identify some circumstances,” Purchia said, “but as a general rule research indicates and it’s generally understood that fighting back often can fend off the attacker and usually does not lead to greater injury.”
“To any rational person this is completely backwards and shows the scope of epidemic,” he said. “Fundamental reforms are needed — the reporting, investigation and adjudication of sexual assault must be taken out of the chain of command.”
During a Senate hearing today, Gen. Mark Welsh III, the Air Force’s chief of staff and outgoing Air Force Secretary Michael Donley both said that taking adjudication of sexual assault out of the chain of command could pose a risk to “good order and discipline.”
While the military has taken some small steps in that direction, it is far from what critics think it should be.
Last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed a limited step to prevent commanders from overturning verdicts in criminal cases as they currently can.
This came after the commander of the Third Air Force overturned a sexual assault verdict reached by a military jury, wiped the conviction from the conviction from the individual’s record and reinstated him to active duty.
For a major change like the one recommended by Purchia to happen, Congress would have to approve a revision of the uniform Code of Military Justice under a bill like the “Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013.”
The Pentagon’s annual report on sexual assault prevention and response will be released later today and will reportedly estimate around 26,000 instances of sexual assault according to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). That number is up from 19,000 reported last year.
Perhaps most troubling is that only 3,374 were actually fully reported. This can at least partially be due to “victims’ fears of retaliation, including possible discharge from service or being overlooked for a promotion,” according to Hayes Brown of ThinkProgress.
While a 2011 survey conducted by the Pentagon and just released late last month indicated that around one of five women in the military say they were victims of unwanted sexual contact by another servicemember, the number of full reports remains low.
Why that is the case is up for debate but it isn’t all that hard to understand that women wouldn’t want to go through the process of filing a full report when the conviction can simply be overturned.
It remains to be seen if legislation will pass on the Hill and if anything tangible is done to push back against the massive problem of sexual assault in the military besides telling potential victims to submit to their attacker.
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