PETERSON AIR FORCE AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Working in the field of sexual assault prevention and response, it’s presumable that I think about the subject more frequently than the average person. As such, my children have been subjected to a plethora of discussions regarding risk reduction and effective bystander intervention — far too many “lectures,” if you ask them.
In fact, before my daughter left for college, she and her five closest friends gathered in my living room to discuss dorm room decorating ideas, class schedules, sororities and other important college freshman issues. As I eavesdropped on their conversation and observed their enthusiasm and excitement, it occurred to me that statistically one of these vibrant young women could likely be a victim of sexual assault.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 1 out of every 6 American women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape at some point in her lifetime. Let’s think about this for a minute. Picture six women you know: 1 in 6. Picture your unit’s holiday party, a family reunion, or a retirement ceremony: 1 in 6. Your softball team, bowling league, or scrapbooking club: 1 in 6.
As my son prepares to enlist in the Air Force, it also occurs to me that at least one young man in his basic training flight might be the victim of sexual assault. RAINN reports that 1 in 33 American men will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape at some point in his lifetime.
The media would have me believe that he is at a much higher risk in the military, yet the statistics would suggest otherwise. Neither one of my children is at higher risk than the rest of our society simply because of their career path. This crime does not discriminate and knows no boundaries. It can occur regardless of gender, rank, age, race, religion, income, ability, profession, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
There is a good chance that someone you know has been or may be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, yet 68 percent of victims will not report the crime. If a survivor trusts you enough to share their experience, how will you respond? Will you believe them? Will you be empathic and supportive? Social norms often direct questions of clothing choices, alcohol consumption or promiscuity; will you dare to challenge those norms, to hold offenders, not survivors, accountable for their actions?
The Peterson AFB objective during Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (and all year-round) is to focus on creating the kind of culture that does not accept sexual assault or any acts of interpersonal violence. This requires a personal commitment from all service members at every level, our civilian counterparts, as well as our families and friends.
Together, we can collectively take action to promote safety, respect and equality. We all have a part in combating sexual assault, and April offers an excellent opportunity to focus attention on our individual roles. You speak with your actions. What are you saying?
Know your part. Do your part. #NotJustApril