Sexual assault prevention begins with each Airman

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Ingrid Muñiz
  • 8th Force Support Squadron
The day we move away from home for the first time is a big stepping stone for most of us. It is the first time we are truly on our own, no longer dependent on our family to provide us with shelter and food.

While most of us are excited to move out, there are small considerations that should come to mind during that time, one of them being personal safety at our new locations.

I personally never made it a point to think about my safety. I did the normal things like always locking my doors and windows. I lived in an apartment complex on my college campus with several neighbors around, so I never thought I could be at risk with regard to the horror stories seen on TV.

Then, my friend told me her story. My friend, whom I will call Jaclyn, was home alone when she heard a knock on her door. Not expecting danger, because she lived on campus and surely nothing would happen in her own dorm room with fellow students around, she opened the door. In the doorway stood a nice-looking young man who was holding a brochure for magazines. He quickly explained that he was competing for a scholarship and if he was the first person to sell the most magazines he could win the money, which he desperately needed to help pay for his tuition. Jaclyn, being a kind-hearted person, decided to contribute to his cause. She told him she just needed to grab her wallet.

The minute Jaclyn turned around, the man shoved her to the ground and attempted to sexually assault her. Fortunately for Jaclyn, her instincts quickly kicked in and she fought back hard, eventually fighting off the assailant. Unfortunately, the man who committed the crime was never found, leaving students feeling unsafe in their own homes. After the incident, my friends and I took steps to protect ourselves and one another from becoming victims of sexual assault.

It was not until I joined the Air Force that I really learned that not only is it important to defend myself, but it is also important to defend others. For me, that included wanting to get involved in a way that would support victims of sexual assault and to stop others from becoming victims. Knowing how my friends and I had been impacted after one of our own almost fell victim to this crime, I felt it was important for me to do something.

Through my personal experience in dealing with the sexual assault prevention and response program, I have witnessed first-hand that sexual assault is an existing problem in today's military. Sadly, most cases are never reported and approximately 75 percent involve someone the victim knows. Within the Air Force, the predator is often a fellow Airman.

The military has taken great strides to better educate Airmen on how to prevent this crime. They've implemented bystander intervention training, which provides Airmen with the tools necessary to combat sexual assault in their daily lives. In addition, the Air Force participates in Sexual Assault Awareness Month using a Department of Defense-driven campaign designed to further educate military members about the existing problem, show what individuals can do to stop it, and reinforce the military's zero tolerance policy.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy stated in a message to Airmen that "Unfortunately, sexual assault continues to burden our Airmen and degrade our mission effectiveness. Sexual assault is a crime, and there is no place for this behavior in our Air Force. We demand better of ourselves."

This year's theme for SAAM is "Hurts one, Affects all," a motto I think is very fitting as I was personally affected by a friend's potential sexual assault. Sexual assault is an issue that does not just affect the victim, but it directly affects friends, family and coworkers. As Airmen in the United States Air Force, we are held to a higher caliber; our duty is to take care of one another and prevent issues such as sexual assault from affecting our peers, so together we can carry out our daily mission without interruption.