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Air Force makes strides in combating sexual assault

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- Eight-hundred fewer Active-Duty Airmen experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact in fiscal year 2014 than in fiscal 2012, and 500 more Airmen reported the crime over the same period.

This data was part of a report provided to the President, Dec. 2, that summarizes the progress the Department of Defense and all the services have made in eliminating sexual assault in the DOD over the past three years.

"The increase in the reporting shows us that victims are more comfortable coming forward, and believe they will get the services they need to recover from the trauma" said Maj. Gen. Gina Grosso, the director of Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

A sexual assault report does not automatically trigger an investigation. Victims who choose to file a restricted report can get the care to help them cope with the crime, and the sexual assault response coordinator will assist them in getting any desired assistance. Unrestricted reports also provide care and assistance to a victim, while automatically launching a criminal investigation by The Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Victims can always seek care from a medical provider without triggering any kind of report.

"We strongly believe in victim's choice," Grosso said. "Victims always have voice and choice when seeking care after an assault. We want all victims to get the help they want and need and should never be pressured into filing one kind of report over another."

She attributes the decrease in prevalence and increase in reporting to the culture change within the Air Force toward sexual assault, particularly at the commander level.

"Leadership involvement at every level the past three years has resulted in fewer sexual assault incidents and more victims reporting the crime," Grosso said. "However, we still have work to do."

Providing a robust sexual assault response system will continue to be a focus moving forward, but Grosso also wants to take a new approach to prevent sexual assault, emphasizing it's everyone's responsibility: individual Airmen, peer groups, leadership at all levels, installation-level programs and Air Force-wide programs working together to eliminate the crime.

"We're starting the new year with a week-long prevention summit in January," she explained. "We're pairing Airmen from the field with primary prevention research experts to develop new prevention tools that will drive us to our vision of an Air Force free from sexual assault."

Another focus area the general wants to address is social and professional retaliation that victims have reported.

"We have training modules this year designed to address communication and training to foster victim empathy," Grosso said. "This needs to happen at all levels - from the peer group, to the first-line supervisors, with commanders taking the lead."

Grosso shared that she is often asked if the Air Force's vision is attainable and she unequivocally says yes. She believes Airmen join the Air Force to be a part of something that's important for the Nation's defense and have a set of values they want to live by.

"I believe we can absolutely create an Air Force free from sexual assault because there is no important task for the nation that Airmen cannot achieve," she said.
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