Airmen challenged to lead and prevent sexual assault

Airmen challenged to lead and prevent sexual assault

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Visiting speakers discussed leaders’ roles in preventing sexual assault at the Sexual Assault Prevention Summit Jan. 13 and 14 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

Lt. Col. Kevin Basik and Dr. Heather McCauley spoke to 150 Airmen of varying ranks about how leaders can promote a professional culture that deters sexual violence and assault. Basik and McCauley were just two of a number of scheduled speakers at the five-day summit designed to stimulate discussion about sexual assault in the Air Force.

“We’re talking about shifting and shaping culture,” said Basik, the senior Air Force advisor for professionalism. “We’ve got to get clear about what a professional is, and then develop a culture around it — a culture of dignity and respect. This is the journey all of us are on. We want to move the culture; we want to move individuals to focus on the right thing.”

According to McCauley, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine, leaders create cultural norms by determining outcome expectation, or the ramifications if an individual demonstrates negative behavior. They also set the cultural standard by modeling positive behavior. If the leader doesn’t feel comfortable doing it, it’s likely that others won’t either.

“Influential leaders are critical to shifting social norms,” McCauley said. “We want to shift social norms including the idea that violence is acceptable and that we can’t do anything about it, because we can.”

Leaders must develop the confidence, competence and judgment to be able to make the right call when it comes to sexual assault, Basik said. The absence of any one of those factors could hijack prevention efforts. A leader can have his heart in the right place, know what he is doing and still make the wrong call.

In many instances, people know what the right decision is, but pressures show up in the gap between deciding and acting, keeping people from doing what they know is right, he said. Some of those pressures include concerns about time and expertise.

Leaders may feel like the necessary conversations remain outside the scope of their job. They may worry about being intrusive, or that they don’t know what to say, McCauley said.

“There are a number of barriers that cross sectors,” she said. “These are all very real, and it’s important that they are said so we can create strategies to address them.”

Consistently crossing the gap between deciding and acting requires leaders to clarify what they are committed to, and step into the person they aspire to be, Basik said. Leadership extends way beyond compliance with Air Force standards to demonstrating a true commitment to leading and developing others.

“We’re back to identities,” he said. “It’s got to start with ownership. You don’t develop other people; you support them in developing themselves.”

Airmen took their notes and insights back to their respective working groups designed to create tools to help the Air Force prevent sexual assault. They were charged to lean into the conversation because everybody has a role in the developmental process.

According to Basik, it starts with thoughts and habits of action.

“You have the ability to shift and change the course of many young men and young women’s lives,” McCauley said.

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