Blog

Rape culture at the Air Force Academy: The shocking truth no one wants to confront

There's momentum to give the federal anti-sex discrimination law teeth. But here's why that won't help young cadets

By Katie McDonough via Salon, August 5, 2014 

Rape culture at the Air Force Academy: The shocking truth no one wants to confront

Air Force Cadets from the class of 2014 arrive for their graduation ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., Wednesday, May 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) (Credit: AP)

A new investigative report on sexual violence and other misconduct at the United States Air Force Academy (AFA) is a wildly disturbing look at campus rape culture at the prestigious military school. Disturbing, but sadly familiar. Cadets on the school’s athletic teams are alleged to have sexually assaulted female classmates, and those crimes were largely ignored by coaches and administrators. When cadets were held accountable, the school took no further action to discipline the coaches and other officers who failed to act. The report exposes, as Alan Pyke of ThinkProgress put it, “the intersection of hero culture and rape culture.”

Here are just a few of the findings from Colorado Springs Gazette reporter Tom Roeder’s piece (emphasis mine):

“‘The girls’ drink, or Captain Morgan with the blue lid, was only for girls to drink [at one party at the school],’ [Office of Special Investigations] confidential informant cadet Eric Thomas told investigators in a written statement obtained by The Gazette. The blue-capped bottle, he explained, was laced with ‘roofies,’ a street term for flunitrazepam, a powerful sedative known as a date-rape drug.”

“After academy leaders were told about the allegations of rape and drug use, OSI agents planned their own party, one with informants in the crowd and special agents nearby to bust bad actors. But leaders determined that the risk that women would be raped was so high that the idea of a January 2012 sting was quashed, academy officials said.”

“In the 2012-2013 academic year, cadets reported 45 sexual assaults, representing nearly two-thirds of the 70 reported assaults at all three major military academies.”

These things are, of course, outrageous and unacceptable. They are also depressingly common, both at military and non-military schools. But the first thing I thought after reading Roeder’s in-depth examination of just how bad things are at AFA was Title IX. Namely, that Title IX — in all its weak imperfection — doesn’t protect cadets at AFA or any other service academy. Despite being taxpayer-funded institutions, each is exempted from the federal anti-sex discrimination law. Victims of sexual assault at these schools are more or less on their own, even more on their own than students at other universities who are already quite on their own.

Sexual assault at these schools “is something that’s being tracked, but doesn’t get a lot of attention because the academies fall in this middle ground between an academic environment and a military environment,” Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) policy director Greg Jacob told Salon. “But there is no reason the academies shouldn’t be included in Title IX. It would bridge the gap between what Congress is trying to do with colleges and what they tried to do with the active duty military.”

And as Roeder’s report makes clear, AFA officials mostly framed the sexual violence problem on their campus as a matter of a few bad apples who don’t meet the school’s “strict conduct rules” rather than a systemic lack of accountability that started at the very top. There has been some movement toward reform — AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson has ordered a review of the athletic department, a few cadets were punished following the OSI investigation and other cadets have started a sexual assault awareness group — but, as Roeder points out, “While pains were taken to punish the cadets for the conduct, there’s little evidence that academy leaders asked wider questions about whether the misconduct of so many athletes exposed deeper problems within the sports programs.”

This is the problem with “bad apple” thinking, Jacob said. “How many times do you have to try to point out the bad apples before you realize the whole bushel basket needs to be thrown out? How many bad apples do you have to eat before you cut down the poison tree?”

And failures of accountability at the service academies can have serious consequences throughout the military, since most generals and admirals come from these elite schools. “When you look at the number of four-star generals in the military — the military academies are unique not only because of the nature of the education, but also the influence their graduates have on these institutions,” Jacob noted. “All of the top leaders come from the academies.”

The solution is not just self-correction from AFA and other military schools, but for Congress to act to bring them under the umbrella of Title IX, according to Jacob. “This is why we have Title IX,” he explained. “We have an atmosphere right now where a student has to be worried about being sexually harassed or assaulted. How are they supposed to learn when they have to look over their shoulder walking to and from class?”

There’s real momentum right now to give the federal anti-sex discrimination law some teeth, but if service academies continue to be exempted, survivors at these schools won’t be able to share in those gains. “The service academies are the hothouse where you’re either going to sprout leaders or predators,” Jacob said. “It’s a unique challenge, but it’s really one that Congress hasn’t taken up. They should.”

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

More Military Sex Assault Reports a Positive Sign?

by Hugh Lessig via Military.com, July 28, 2014

NORFOLK -- Navy Capt. Chuck Marks spent a year in Afghanistan as chief of plans, coordinating the interests of 50 coalition nations, a somewhat reluctant Afghan government and neighboring countries that were, in a word, "interesting."

Now he works in Norfolk, far removed from a ground war. Yet he considers his current job more challenging and complex.

Marks is the sexual assault prevention and response officer at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. He is among those on the front lines of a different struggle: changing a military culture regarding sex crimes.

Reports of military sexual assault are skyrocketing. A Pentagon report released May 1 logged a nearly 50 percent increase across all services in a year. Yet Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the crime is still being underreported.

"We must keep up the pressure and intensify our efforts to improve victim confidence in our system," he said in releasing the report.

Far from being discouraged by the rising numbers, Marks says he is heartened. It shows more service members are coming forward to seek help and find justice, he said.

There will never be a magic moment where the military will declare its culture to be "transformed," but Marks says momentum is building.

"Everyone gets it. Everyone is working on it together," he said. "I have rarely seen the kind of synergy I see today."

Lt. Annie Otten is a Fleet Forces Command victim's advocate. She's been doing this type of job for eight years, implementing programs at different Navy commands. Years ago, it seemed many sailors didn't realize the extent of the problem.

"When I would conduct training, I was still saying, 'We have a problem. It's sexual assault. This is what sexual assault is.' You really had to break it down to the basics," she said. "That started to change, slowly, probably five years ago. Within the last two to three years, it has been a constant drumbeat. We have really ramped it up. I don't know if we fully understood the depth of the problem more than two or three years ago."

The problem is compounded by the complexity of sexual assault cases, said Marks.

"I have looked at every single sexual assault incident that's occurred inside Fleet Forces Command in fiscal years '13 and '14, and many of the cases in fiscal year '12," he said. "There are zero cases that look alike. ... When you talk to our prosecution team in Norfolk, they will tell you that sorting through a murder case is much simpler than a sexual assault case."

He can make some broad generalizations. A very small percentage of cases involve an unknown assailant hiding in the bushes, or higher-ranking officers forcing themselves on junior sailors.

"Most of our victims and alleged offenders are first-term sailors," he said. "And most of our cases involve alcohol. So it's peer to peer."

Often there is a prior relationship.

"What we have seen in many of our cases, there's some sort of relationship between the two that is unprofessional in the workplace. Both participate, then you go out into town, introduce alcohol, and somebody believes they've got the green light and they don't," he said.

Military law and reporting

The Uniform Code of Military Justice breaks down sexual crimes into five categories, three of which can be labeled as penetration crimes and two as contact crimes.

"In most every state, those contact crimes, which make up a little more than half our cases, are not sexual assaults," he said. "Out in town, here in Virginia, they would be misdemeanors. But they're a felony sexual assault under the DoD definition. Those were changed in June 2012."

Victims can file restricted or unrestricted reports. A restricted report does not involve a legal case. The victim comes forward and the case is recorded, but the primary motivation is to seek help. In an unrestricted report, the victims are not only getting help, they're seeking justice.

"We see a big uptick in unrestricted reports," Marks said, "and a big uptick in restricted reports being converted into unrestricted reports. Both of those are giving us confidence that people are coming forward."

Otten cited another reason why service members seem to have more confidence in the system.

"We're getting a lot of reports with latency -- reporting something that happened one or two years ago," she said. "As victim advocates, we are grateful that they're coming forward and getting help, whereas before you didn't see so many latency reports. Others are reporting earlier incidents before they joined the military."

Male victims

Sexual assaults on male service members continue to be under-reported, defense officials say. Hagel said the military is working on ways to encourage male victims to come forward.

At Fleet Forces Command, the Navy is seeing more male victims, but it still lags female reporting.

"The culture associated with males (and sexual assault) is a relatively new thing for the military to deal with out in the open," Marks said. "But I also think that's reflective of society at large."

Addressing this issue in May, Hagel said, "With estimates that men comprise more than half the victims of sexual assault in the military, we have to fight the cultural stigmas that discourage reporting and be clear that sexual assault does not occur because a victim is weak, but rather because an offender disregards our values and the law. Input from male victims will be critical in developing these methods, and results will be closely monitored so we can make them more effective."

What's next?

Military leaders cite several new reforms meant to improve the system going forward.

They will evaluate training for sexual assault prevention and response officers, create an online forum to share information and encourage male victims to come forward. Another is a review of alcohol policies.

Congress has enacted several changes as well, although some say more needs to be done.

The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law in December 2013, strips commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions, installs civilian review of decisions to not prosecute cases, provides victims with their own independent legal counsel and requires dishonorable discharge or dismissal for anyone convicted of sexual assault.

In addition, Virginia Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine pushed through the Military Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act that, among other things, will encourage troops to report unwanted sexual contact without fear of retribution.

Marks said the Navy's overall push toward "wellness" should help as well. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that initiative in March 2012 when he spoke in Norfolk aboard the USS Bataan.

The Navy's four biggest issues when it comes to readiness are sexual assault, domestic violence, suicide, and alcohol abuse. Once way to combat all those problems is making sure that sailors eat right, take care of themselves physically and maintain a balance between work and home life.

"If you're going to go after all of the destructive behaviors," Marks said, "you've got to put your net around all of that stuff collectively."

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Handling of Military Sexual Assault Up for Debate

By Hugh Lessig via Stars and Stripes, July 27, 2014

In March, the Senate rejected a bid to change how the military prosecutes sexual assault cases, keeping them within the chain of command instead of enlisting independent prosecutors.

Expect the debate to continue.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who sponsored that bill, said too few victims trust their own chain of command, either due to fear of reprisal or skepticism that they'll receive fair treatment.

"It's like your brother committing the sexual assault and having your father decide whether to prosecute," she said at the time.

Gillibrand said she intends to continue pursuing the matter, which divides people in and out of the military.

In Hampton Roads, two Navy officers say the current system works, while a former Virginia Beach prosecutor who served on a military sexual assault panel says Gillibrand has it right.

Navy Capt. Chuck Marks is the sexual assault prevention and response officer at U.S. Fleet Forces Command. The Navy's 43 percent increase in sexual assault reports gives him confidence that more sailors are coming forward because they trust the system.

The current system holds commanders accountable for what happens inside their commands, Marks said, so they become "personally invested" in seeking a just outcome. Lt. Annie Otten, a victim's advocate at Fleet Forces, agrees. A case that proceeds up the chain of command will be addressed more promptly than if it were taken to independent prosecutors.

"It gives that commanding officer the ability to still have that control, to be able to swiftly address the problem, and do it so everybody can hear this behavior is not acceptable and this is what we're doing about it," she said.

Gillibrand's bill split the Senate along unusual lines. She's considered a progressive Democrat, yet she won support from two arch-conservative Republicans, Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

Virginia's two senators, both moderate Democrats, voted against the bill. Sen. Mark R. Warner said he deeply respected Gillibrand's efforts, but had concerns about its effect on the military justice system. Kaine said bypassing the chain of command was not the most effective way to deal with sexual assaults, and he didn't think it would encourage more troops to come forward.

Another group also favors keeping commanders in the loop. A panel directed to examine the issue released a report June 30 that called for a number of reforms, but independent prosecution was not one of them.

However, two members of the nine-person panel issued a formal dissent, including former Virginia Beach Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant. Joining him was Elizabeth Hillman, a professor of law at the University of California.

They said the decision to keep commanders in the loop was based on "high-ranking commanders and attorneys within the U.S. military. It neglects the words of survivors of sexual assault, rank-and-file service members, outside experts and officers in our allies' militaries."

The commander-as-prosecutor "creates doubt about the fairness of military justice, has little connection to exercising legitimate authority over subordinates and undermines the confidence of victims," their statement reads.

Petty Officer 1st Class Bonnie McCammond is a sexual assault survivor based at Fort Meade, Md., who has been featured in Navy videos. She believes Navy culture is improving, but more work must be done. That includes using independent prosecutors, she said.

"I don't think the chain of command should be making the decision," said McCammond, who spoke to the Daily Press in June. "This is a criminal proceeding. This is not something you should have any personal involvement in because it's not possible to be objective."

Gillibrand's measure may return in the fall as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, said Barbara Brown, communications director for Service Women's Action Network, which supports the senator.

"Commanders are not lawyers," Brown said. "Most have not studied in law school, passed a bar exam or argued a case in court. Military lawyers are better trained and equipped to handle serious criminal matters. Commanders are better trained to lead their troops."

Gillibrand's bill, Brown said, "lets commanders command and lawyers lawyer."

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Navy to retool Blue Angels after scandal

By Dan Lamothe via The Washington Post, July 23, 2014

 

The Navy’s investigative report examining the leadership of former Blue Angels commanding officer Capt. Gregory McWherter is filled with embarrassing details that raise questions about his leadership and the culture in the squadron. The Navy found that McWherter chose not to stop sexual harassment and condoned pornography and creepy behavior in the workplace.

“I believe he… became susceptible to hubris and arrogance, blinding him to the common sense judgments expected of all service members, but especially those entrusted with command,” Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, wrote in the investigation’s final report.

One example: As the investigation puts it, “a large blue and gold penis was painted on the roof of the center point trailer at the Blue Angels’ winter training facilities in El Centro.” It was so large, it was “visible from satellite imagery,” including those used on Google Maps.

The Navy replaced McWherter with Cmdr. Thomas Frosch in November 2012. But it isn’t stopping there in shaking things up. Navy Times reported last night that the Blue Angels will get an executive officer — a No. 2 in command — for the first time in the squadron’s history. The selection process for the unit also will be overhauled to include more oversight from the Navy’s personnel officials.

Vice Adm. David Buss told Navy Times that he made the change because he wanted the traditional “command triad” to exist in the Blue Angels. That includes the commanding officer, the executive officer and a senior enlisted adviser, the command master chief.

That addresses an issue raised in the investigation. McWherter first led the Blue Angels without issue from 2008 to 2010. He was brought back to lead the squadron again in 2011, and failed to set effective limits on his staff’s behavior after he returned, investigators found. The basic thinking: If an executive officer, or “XO,” had been present in the Blue Angels, there would have been an additional check on what was occurring in the unit.

The changes were announced as the Navy publicized who will be in the Blue Angels in 2015. The new executive officer will be Cmdr. Bob Flynn, a S-3B naval flight officer. He will not participate in flight demonstrations, focusing instead on administrative needs, travel and training, Buss told Navy Times.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Army to open more sex-assault response centers based on JBLM model

BY ADAM ASHTON, The News Tribune, July 17, 2014 

A year ago, Joint Base Lewis-McChord opened a sexual assault response center that seemed like such a good idea, commanders wondered why they had not launched it earlier.

The rest of the Army apparently agreed.

This month, Army commanders announced plans to replicate the JBLM model at 11 other posts. It’s an endorsement of a project created at the base south of Tacoma that placed a variety of resources under one roof instead of spreading them around a sprawling military installation.

“We’re going to make that an Army best practice,” Secretary of the Army John McHugh said earlier this month during a visit to JBLM.

The center — formally known as the I Corps Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program resource center — consolidates legal, medical, mental health, advocacy and education services in one location.

Previously, victims would have to go to different offices for those services and often have to relive traumatic experiences while speaking with advocates at each stop.

Now, “they can just go to one center,” said Lt. Col. Stephanie Johnson, the I Corps sexual harassment and assault prevention program manager.

Johnson said about three dozen people visit the center each month. Some are victims; others are unit leaders looking for the Army’s latest information on halting sexual assault in the ranks.

“We are used not just for victims, but for anyone looking for answers,” she said.

The Pentagon in May reported a steep rise in reports of sexual assault. Commanders largely attributed the increase to victims feeling more comfortable coming forward to report crimesbecause of increased military scrutiny on the issue.

Across the Army, the number of reports increased to 2,149 last year from 1,423 in 2012. At JBLM, the number of reports climbed to 120 in 2013 from 100 in 2012.

JBLM had a soft opening for its sex assault response center last summer. The base hosted agrand opening for the center in November.

The military is facing pressure from lawmakers to reform its sexual-assault prevention efforts. One proposal would take the prosecution of sex crimes out of the Army’s normal chain of command. So far, the measure by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has failed to pass.

Army leaders cast the decision to open more one-stop centers as an effort to change a military culture that critics say is too tolerant of sex assault.

"What we're trying to do is put the systems in place and provide the tools to commanders, in order to change the culture and create an Army where everyone is treated with dignity and respect," said Lt. Col. Geoff Catlett of the Army’s personnel command in a news release announcing the new centers.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@thenewstribune.com @TNTMilitary

 

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Investigation reveals creepy details behind Marine colonel's firing

By Hope Hodge Seck via Marine Corps Times, Jul. 21, 2014

An investigation into last year’s firing of a senior Marine Corps officer reveals that at least six female subordinates told authorities he had touched them inappropriately or made lewd comments to them.

Col. Tracy Tafolla, 48, was removed as commander of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate in Quantico, Va., in May 2013. The command investigation, released to Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, contains pages of testimony transcript from female witnesses who described Tafolla’s behavior as “red zone” on the Navy’s “stoplight” chart for workplace behavior, and recalled going to extreme lengths to avoid being left alone with him.

Despite the investigation’s damning revelations, Marine officials said Tafolla remains on active duty.

Interviewed for 30 minutes about the allegations, Tafolla could not refute any of the reports or provide any mitigating context for his alleged actions, the investigation found. He did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation and its findings.

His alleged misbehavior grew so pervasive that one employee testified it was “almost like a joke of the directorate.”

The investigation describes lurid accounts of misbehavior. The investigating officers interviewed a total of five employees of the directorate, three female and two male, who reported the following:

■ Tafolla allegedly noticed a female employee carrying a Victoria’s Secret umbrella and said, “you know that makes everyone wonder what’s underneath.”

■ He allegedly told a co-worker that they should travel together, but that his wife wouldn’t like him traveling with such a “hot young thing.”

■ Tafolla allegedly was fond of approaching one woman from behind and giving her shoulder massages of a minute or more, usually when her office-mate was not nearby.

■ He allegedly would approach one subordinate while she was talking to a co-worker, putting his arm around her and announcing to the office “how do you like my hot new girlfriend?”

■ One member of the directorate said a female coworker reported to him that Tafolla allegedly told her “if only I were 15 years younger.”

■ A woman said she was once offended when Tafolla allegedly pulled her onto his lap while at a unit social function. She later heard rumors that she “gave the colonel a lap dance.”

■ Tafolla allegedly would engage in unwelcome “rubbing of the shoulders” and “knee touching,” touching one woman on the knee repeatedly under the table during a meeting.

■ Ultimately, one woman asked her office-mate to make sure she was never alone with Tafolla.

The accusations came to light in March 2013, when an anonymous email was sent to a Quantico hotline listing six female employees of the directorate, some contractors and some Navy civilian employees, who had been subjected to Tafolla’s alleged behavior. The employees “do not feel comfortable being alone with him and are in fear of their careers if they say anything to him,” the email said, according to the investigation.

According to the investigation, the witnesses acknowledged that they should have reported the behavior sooner — one said the alleged harassment had been going on for her since 2010 — but offered various reasons for not coming forward: fear of losing a job, wishing to avoid jeopardizing Tafolla’s career, worry about getting a “label” in the office.

“I’m one that usually speaks up very confidently,” said one female witness. “But in this situation ... I didn’t have the guts to do it. Because it’s someone I respect, it’s my boss’s boss’s boss. The director of our organization ... just didn’t feel comfortable.”

After he was relieved of command, Tafolla was transferred within Quantico to a position at Marine Corps Systems Command, officials said. A spokesman for Marine Corps Installations Command, Rex Runyon, said Tafolla faces no legal actions.

Another Marine official confirmed that Tafolla did, however, receive nonjudicial punishment as a result of the accusations. Since NJP proceedings are not open to the public, the official could not release the details of the punishment.

It’s also possible that he could face further administrative action at some point, including a board of inquiry hearing that might determine his fitness to remain in the Marine Corps.

The directorate oversees development, testing and evaluation of non-lethal technologies across the Defense Department. These technologies range from flash-bang grenades and pepper spray dispensers to futuristic weapons including the “heat ray” active denial system now in development.

Marine Col. Michael Coolican succeeded Tafolla as commander of the directorate last December.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

To change a culture: New Air Force training focuses on eliminating sexism in the military

By Monica Vaughan, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif. via Stars and Stripes, July 20, 2014

 

 

Air Force personnel admit it's difficult to call out their peers for sexist jokes or intervene in sexual harassment.

"I personally do not feel comfortable, but I still do it anyway because I don't want to see what would happen next," said Beale Air Force Base Technical Sgt. Julio Serrano.

"It starts off as a joke, but if a commander or squadron leader doesn't nip that in the bud, (predators) can hide in that environment."

Serrano, like every other airman at Beale, was recently trained to understand that sexual predators' behavior can be tracked on a "continuum of harm." It begins with sexist jokes, and if allowed, evolves into objectification, comments about a person's body, inappropriate touching and finally to criminal sexual acts.

"There is a very clear link between sexual harassment and sexual assault," Col. Phil Stewart, former commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, told his airmen before he left in June for a new assignment at the Pentagon.

Sexual assault in the military and the military's historical response to those assaults have increasingly come under fire over the last few years. The Air Force has responded with new training programs, additional resources for victims and increased transparency from the court.

Col. Douglas J. Lee, the new 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander, said Friday the Air Force takes sexual assault cases extremely seriously and such cases are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"Individuals who commit these crimes are a tiny fraction of people in the Air Force, and they do not represent the majority of the professional men and women who serve this great nation honorably," Lee said.

One of the goals of the new training is to push airmen to be proactive and help identify sexual predators. They're learning to intervene when they witness ina propriate behavior and challenge internalized beliefs that may place the blame of sexual assault on victims.

Basically, Beale airmen have been enlisted in a new mission as foot soldiers in the campaign for cultural change to stop sexual assault.

"I want my airmen to root out bad airmen," Stewart said.

That philosophy puts pressure on every airman to be a part of the fight against sexual assault, Serrano said.

Cathy Knight, the civilian sexual assault response coordinator at Beale, said the most important initiative on base has been to replace "death by PowerPoint" presentations with briefings and training that are audience-specific, interactive, memorable and actionable.

"We feel we succeed when we get people talking — engaging in meaningful dialogue that helps change behaviors and the culture," Knight said.

A training in May, delivered to everyone on the base — military and defense civilians — focused on offender behavior. The next training will be on the neurobiology of sexual trauma and will focus on survivors of sexual assault and their recovery.

Victims may feel more comfortable reporting assaults

According to the Department of Defense, 1,047 sexual assaults were reported in the Air Force in fiscal year 2013. Only about 11 percent of sexual assault victims report the crime, according to a study conducted by the Pentagon and released in May 2014.

Reports of sexual assault across the Department of Defense increased 50 percent from 2012 to 2013, which officials attribute to victims feeling more comfortable reporting assaults.

At Beale Air Force Base, four airmen have been tried and convicted of sexual assault since 2010. Those assaults impacted nine victims, some civilian and some airmen. One airman was tried and acquitted in that same time.

Two additional courts-martial are scheduled at Beale in October, impacting at least two alleged victims.

Requests for the number of sexual assaults involving Beale airmen that have been reported were not fulfilled.

"The Air Force is refraining from releasing specific base statistics for several reasons," said Lt. Siobhan G. Bennett with Beale public affairs.

During training, talk shifts away from blaming the victim

A group of airmen gathered in a breakroom to talk about an upcoming party. During the conversation, they ranked their female colleagues' looks, talked about spiking the women's drinks and placed bets on who would be able to have sex that night.

It was actually a role-playing scenario in a four-hour mandatory training session at Beale Air Force Base in May.

After the scenario was played out in groups of up to 25, airmen discussed the issues.

"A lot of people felt the airmen should have been approached in that breakroom," Technical Sgt. Julio Serrano said. There were also comments that people could taste whether there was alcohol in a drink and that "they should know their body."

The discussion was turned back toward predator behavior and away from victim-blaming, Serrano said. "Although (a female airman) can put themselves in that state, they're not asking for (sexual assault). We're trying to get away from finding a way to blame the victim.

"Comments like 'She drank too much' — that kind of mindset can prevent victims from reporting."

As individuals see a situation and interpret it as problematic, they are trained to accept responsibility, decide how to handle it and act, said Cathy Knight, the civilian sexual assault response coordinator at Beale.

"As each individual does this, it sets the example for others and becomes a self-sustaining part of our culture," Knight said. "It also speaks to survivors of sexual assault that we do not ignore, tolerate or condone offenders."

Knigh said a lot of people would want to say something, "it just takes one person to have the courage."

Lt. Siobhan Bennett said she's seen big changes and progress in the military's sexual assault training just in her two years in active duty in the Air Force.

She didn't know if she would "have the guts" to confront someone behaving inappropriately.

"I left thinking, 'What would I do?'" she said.

She and Serrano expressed pride in the program.

"I think we have a good opportunity to make a big impact on this critical area, and like any critical issue, it requires a change in culture, and it will take time," Bennett said.

There was a time when females weren't allowed to join the military. Now, woman can do just about any job a man can. The same sort of cultural shift is going to happen with sexual assault, she said.

'Resocialization' is part of process of changing attitudes

Empowering airmen to change their culture requires a resocialization process. The Air Force, after all, is a subsection of a larger society.

"You can't just expect 18- and 19-year-olds to change their behavior. It's a cultural shift," said Col. Phil Stewart, former commander of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale, who addressed all of the airmen on base about sexual assault before he left for another assignment.

"It's not something you just do once and move on," he said. "We constantly address it."

At Beale, each airman is educated about assault and told the Air Force will not tolerate sexual assault.

It's becoming a part of the process of becoming an airman.

When people join the military, they are held to a particular standard and will be taught to respect themselves and respect others, Stewart said.

They're taught what consent means, he said.

"If you weren't taught to treat the opposite gender with respect, this is going to be a shock for you," Stewart said. "I can't tell you how to raise your kids or treat your wife. ... I bundle it up as respect for yourself and respect for others."

He said he takes sexual assault seriously and personally, in part because he has a 15-year-old daughter.

He frequently hears the question, "Is it safe for girls to join the Air Force?"

"Of course I think it's safe to be a female in the military," he said. "I'm very proud of our program, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response; it's very victim-focused."

Beale has trained dozens of airmen as sexual assault advocates, and victims are provided with additional support through every step of the process in confronting the issue, from choosing whether to report to being provided with victim counseling through court-martial proceedings.

It's not uncommon, Stewart said, for a female airman to approach him with tears in her eyes to report a previous assault.

"About 12 percent of my cases were assaulted before they were in the military," he said. "They come forward now because they want to get help.

"You have to make the journey from being a victim to a survivor," he said.

"I'm proud of the progress we've made," Stewart said. "I challenge you to find a program that is more compassionate, more-victim focused and helps more victims become survivors more than the military and Beale Air Force Base. I just don't think you'll find it."

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Men Recovering From Military Sexual Trauma

 via the Good Men Project, July 14, 2014 

Brian Lewis explains how a uniform doesn’t prevent the erasure of male survivors.

 

The Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel released its report regarding the scourge of military sexual trauma. This was the supposedly independent panel (not really) established by Congress to examine how the military was combating the longstanding crimes of rape and sexual trauma in the military and to make recommendations as to how the military can do better. There has been a lot of talk about the recommendations to keep reporting and adjudication within the chain of command. However, there is one recommendation no one is talking about.

Men.

More specifically, providing more resources for healing and more funding for research on survivors of male-on-male rape and assault in the military. There is no dispute that men are the majority of victims within the military. What is new is that male victims are finally being recognized and noticed for the huge lack of resources facing them? No, wait, that’s not new either…

In 2004, the Defense Task Force on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault recommended that more information be gathered concerning male survivors. What happened to that recommendation? Nothing. In 2009, the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services recommended that male survivors of sexual assault be given separate treatment areas and that protocols be established specifically for treating male survivors. What happened to those recommendations? Ignored. In 2013, the United States Commission on Civil Rights discussed at great length the need to have more representation of male survivors. Where did this recommendation go? Into the circular file. So please excuse male survivors if we are a little less than hopeful regarding actual implementation of the one single recommendation regarding male survivors in this latest report.

Even this latest report marginalizes a large minority of the male survivor community in the military. Namely, it continues to ignore the reality of female-on-male rapes and sexual assaults. The Department of Defense’s own survey has estimated that when men are the victims, women are the perpetrator about forty percent of the time. Former Marine Sergeant James Landrith knows this reality all too well. While the Department of Defense continues to ignore this issue, CNN and other media outlets are beginning to cover it. A recent CNN article on Landrith was actually named one of the top 10 news stories of the year for that news section. Media interest is clearly there and victims are speaking out more, so why does the DoD still ignore the issue?

 

Supposedly the Department of Defense and the Veterans Health Administration share knowledge, reports, and information. If that is the case, why does the Veterans Health Administration continue the same ineffectual health care policies that have clearly failed in the Department of Defense? There are no dedicated programs specifically for male survivors of military sexual trauma. Male survivors, in some cases, still have to go to the women’s clinic at their local VA to receive care. No research is taking place for male survivors at the Veterans Health Administration. Clearly, VHA is no friend of the male survivor.

We have heard some empty promises from the Secretary of Defense about how he has directed the Sexual Assault and Prevention Response Office to address these shortcomings. Unfortunately, Secretary Hagel’s words are not being turned into action. Who is advising Major General Snow and his staff on how best to reach male survivors? Aside from Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma, there are no U.S. advocacy organizations dedicated solely to male survivors of sexual abuse endured as an adult, whether inside or outside of the military.

So, what is the game plan for the federal government? Issue more empty words and hope the issue goes away? Male survivors have endured in silence for far too long. It is our turn to have a seat at the table to talk about the reality of being a victim of sexual crimes. Please join Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma as we start a march toward equality for male survivors of sexual violence in the military.

 

Read more
Add your reaction Share

“It was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through”: How reporting sexual assault can revictimize survivors

KATIE MCDONOUGH via Salon, July 14, 2014 

A New York Times report shares one victim's story of being mistreated by her school. She's hardly alone.

 

Last, week Claire McCaskill released a report on sexual violence at American colleges and universities revealing — among other troubling findings — that of more than 300 schools surveyed, 40 percent hadn’t conducted a single sexual assault investigation in the last five years. This was true even for schools that had reported sexual assaults to the Department of Education during that same time period, meaning that these cases were blatantly ignored by administrators. But another alarming truth exposed in McCaskill’s report was just how little training and resources are available at the schools that meet their federal obligations and actually investigate sexual assault on their campuses. It seems victims are largely on their own whether or not their assaults are investigated.

 

This lack of training is a dangerous thing. And while reports like McCaskill’s are crucial to raising awareness and demanding accountability from administrators and law enforcement, the numbers can sometimes obscure the real people who are harmed by the failures of the system. A story that ran over the weekend by Walt Bogdanich at the New York Times shared one of those stories, and put a human face to the statistics.

Anna was a freshman at Hobart and William Smith Colleges when she says she was sexually assaulted by members of the school’s football team. After texting her friends that she was at a party with a group of football players and “scared,” she was eventually found in a common room on campus, bent over a pool table as a football player appeared to be sexually assaulting her. Others were in the room watching and laughing, according to a witness account. Anna told the Times that she had no recollection of what happened to her on the pool table, but said she was raped earlier in the evening in a bedroom in a campus fraternity house.

A sexual assault nurse who examined Anna found “blunt force trauma” indicating “intercourse with either multiple partners, multiple times or that the intercourse was very forceful.” A sergeant who drove her back to her dorm that night assured her that her school “would respond in whatever manner that would support her.”

The sergeant was wrong. It took the panel at Hobart and William Smith Colleges 12 days to clear each of the football players involved of any wrongdoing.

Two of the three panel members did not examine a report from the sexual assault nurse showing blunt force trauma, instead focusing on how much alcohol Anna had consumed that night and asking questions about how she danced with her alleged rapists. “It was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through,” Anna said of the hearing. “I felt like I was talking to someone who knew nothing of any sort of social interaction; what happens at parties; what happens in sex.”

“The questioning is absolutely stunning in its absurdity,” Anna’s lawyer, Inga L. Parsons, told the Times.

Anna’s story is hardly unique. On college campuses and off, victims are the ones generally put on trial for the crimes committed against them. A student who was assaulted at Patrick Henry College — a private Christian evangelical school — was aggressively questioned by the dean of students and told that she wasn’t “wholly innocent in this situation.” She was asked questions like, “Did you make it up? Or did you deserve it in some way? Or was it consensual and now you’re just lying about it to make him look bad?,” according to a witness present at the time. The student’s alleged rapist was never disciplined.

Earlier this year, after a woman was allegedly assaulted by members of the Naval Academy football team, she was questioned for 20 hours by 12 attorneys and forced to answer questions about her sexual history. She was asked whether or not she wore a bra, how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex, and if she considered herself a “ho” after the alleged assault occurred.

These failures aren’t even limited to college or military investigations. Law enforcement officials have been found to be equally ill-prepared to handle these cases. “Law enforcement officials at 30 percent of institutions in the national sample receive no training on how to respond to reports of sexual violence,” according to the findings. A recentnational survey also found that law enforcement lack this crucial training, and often use a narrow conceptions about rape — namely, that only stranger rape involving a weapon or physical force counts as rape — to guide their investigations. As a result, victims suffer.

There is an endless stream of survivor testimonies that sound exactly like this one, thousands of survivors who are re-victimized by the systems that are supposed to be put in place to help them. And yet men like George Will call the failures of accountability and abuse endured by survivors “privileges.” And still we wonder why more victims don’t come forward. Why reporting remains so low. Why survivors self-critique their own rape experiences, question whether or not what happened to them counts as a crime. Why some victims cease to cooperate with hostile investigations.

Despite her experience at the school, Anna told the Times she intends to return to Hobart and William Smith in the fall, for one simple reason: “Someone needs to help survivors there.”

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

 

Read more
2 reactions Share

Harvey Bryant on commander authority in military sex assault cases: “I don’t think its best”

BY   via WTKR JULY 7, 2014 

A congressional panel looking into military sexual assaults has voted to keep prosecution authority with commanders.

But one of the two who voted against it was none other than former Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney Harvey Bryant.

He and 8 other people spent a year working on the 325 page report–but now that it’s all complete, what does he really think?

“I don’t think our recommendations as a panel are best for men and women in uniform, and I don’t think it’s best for public confidence in what’s going on,” said Harvey Bryant, talking about his experience on the “Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel” convened by Congress last year.

The former Virginia Beach Commonwealth Attorney was handpicked to look at the way the military handles the prosecution of sexual assaults–but out of 9 people, Bryant was only one of two who voted to take court martial authority for sexual assaults away from military commanders.

“The primary goal is to increase confidence and put it in the hands of people trained in law to make decisions. We don’t let commanders decide who is having an operation, doctors in the military decide that,” said Bryant.

Bryant says he didn’t always feel that way–but changed his views after several months of official hearings and testimony from more than 650 people, many of them military officers.

“I wasn’t satisfied with their answers. I suddenly realized, ‘this is not good, we are not going to have confidence in the system,’” said Bryant.

In the end, his change of heart didn’t matter much–the majority of his fellow panel members voted the other way.

Their recommendations to keep court martial decisions inside the chain of command was sent to the Pentagon as well as Congress.

“Within that majority was a retired Vice-Admiral from the JAG corps, two retired generals that were military attorneys, and a full colonel, retired, who had also been a military attorney,” said Bryant.

As expected, their recommendations to Congress largely kept the status quo.

“I just believe having spent their careers in that, it was difficult for them to see that the system they had come up in, and in many cases supervised, needed major change,” said Bryant. “It should work in the military just like it does in the real world.”

Bryant says there were some good things the panel recommended that he believes Congress and the Pentagon should enact.

1. Release all sentencing data for sexual assault court-martial outcomes on a public website for transparency.

2. Perform better surveys for sexual assault data with bigger samples.

3. Let victims have a greater role during plea agreements.

4. Allow victims to make restricted sexual assault reports to law enforcement, without triggering a full investigation.

5. Allow law enforcement to compile data on restricted reports, so they target repeat offenders.

6. Give military defense attorneys more money so they can hire investigators for proper defense of suspects.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

← Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9    14  15  Next →
The Invisible War

WATCH THE TRAILER

See the Film, Spread the Message

GET THE DVD

Stand with Survivors

FIND RESOURCES