By Buddy Blouin
Sexual assault in the military has been an ongoing and extensive problem for years now. Many people have been advocating for systematic changes in hopes of improving the response and assistance for people who experience sexual violence. There are many stories of sexual assault in the military that state victims didn’t report the behavior because they didn’t believe anything would be done. With a new Air Force program, there are hopes that this will change.

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Pilot Program To Help Victims of Sexual Assault in the Military

On August 1, 2022, the United States Air Force (USAF) launched their new pilot program entitled the Integration Response Co-Location program. This program is meant to centralize resources for victims and survivors of sexual assault in the military, as well as victims of harassment, domestic violence, stalking, and other forms of abuse. There will be five types of services for Airmen, Guardians, and their families to utilize within one location. The services include:
  • Victims Counsel
  • Religious Support Team
  • Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate
  • Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Advocate
  • Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
According to Air Force Magazine, undersecretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said in a statement, “This is about supporting victims, plain and simple, Co-locating support services for victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of interpersonal violence is meant to help victims easily navigate available resources. We’re committed to increasing awareness of response services, minimizing the number of times a victim has to tell their story, and collecting the data to improve response and prevention efforts.”

Over the next six months, data from the pilot program will be compared to data from control bases to determine if the program will be effective. The program will be placed at the seven Air Force bases listed below to be able to evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

  • Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
  • Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
  • Vandenberg Space Force Base, California.
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
  • Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.
  • RAF Lakenheath, UK.
  • Misawa Air Base, Japan.
According to Military.com, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank that researches military culture and family issues stated that “having all these services all in the same place makes sense. For someone who has been a victim of sexual assault or harassment, walking through the door is hard enough. Having all those resources there helps.” She also said that the pilot program is a simple solution but could have a big impact on Airmen and Guardians.

What Is Military Sexual Trauma?

Military sexual trauma is when one experiences sexual assault and sexual harassment in the U.S. military. It includes any form of sexual activity that happened while serving in the military that occurred against one’s will or when someone was unable to say no or provide consent. For more examples of this, visit the VA website.

Anyone who’s experienced these types of threats and actions in the military becomes someone who experiences military sexual trauma. Military sexual trauma statistics show that MTS affects an individual’s mental health, as well as their physical health, for a long time. Many people may experience disturbing nightmares, issues with sleep, addiction to alcohol or drugs to get rid of negative feelings, and other mental and physical health problems.

Why Does Sexual Assault Occur in the Military?

Military culture has many factors that feed into allowing sexual assault in the military to happen. There are many rules and expectations that also make it difficult for assault victims to feel comfortable about speaking up and reporting the behavior.

For example, service members are meant to act as a team, and reporting another team member to authorities may be seen as a betrayal. Service members are also expected to resolve conflicts among themselves, which could lead to victims feeling that they shouldn’t report the behavior.

Another factor of military culture that may allow sexual assaults in the military to go unreported or occur in the first place is the movement of military personnel, which can allow perpetrators to take advantage of new members of the unit. Restrictions on job assignments, emphasis on training, living arrangements, and the military legal system are also all factors of military culture that allow sexual assault to remain such a prevalent issue.

Disturbing High-Profile Incidents Among Leadership in the USAF

While the Air Force continues to work towards preventing sexual violence, there have been notable high-profile cases involving leaders. Such is the case of Maj Gen William Cooley, a man who became a Two-Star General before retiring in disgrace as a Colonel following a court martial.

The incident in question took place in 2018 when Cooley assaulted his sister-in-law. Though he was found not guilty of the two counts involving groping, Cooley still was convicted of abusive sexual conduct for an aggressive kiss. As if that wasn’t enough, the USAF is now dealing with another black eye.

Although he is assumed innocent until proven guilty, fighting sexual assault in the military while these types of cases are open is a difficult task. This is why the various accusations against Maj. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart are making headlines for all of the wrong reasons.

Disturbing allegations involving Phillip A. Stewart are coming to light as he is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in April 2023 at a military base in Oklahoma. This comes after Stewart was fired from Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph on October 24, 2023, for a lack of confidence in his leadership abilities.

There are several additional charges the Air Force levied against the Two-Star General Stewart, including controlling an aircraft after drinking within 12 hours of takeoff, conduct unbecoming an officer, dereliction of duty, and extramarital sexual conduct. All issues break the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Allegedly, the woman was assaulted sexually by Gen. Stewart on April 13, 2023, and April 14, 2023, either at or near Altus AFB. However, the case is still ongoing. As of this writing, Stewart is still an Airman but is serving at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in a limited capacity.

Sexual assault has no place anywhere, especially in the military, and the fact that there are so many issues surrounding leadership only amplifies the need for pilot programs like the Integration Response Co-Location. How much the program had on bringing such high-profile incidents to light is unclear but a culture shift seems to be underway.

Sexual Assault in the Military Statistics

A survey from November 2021 compiled sexual assault stats in the military that show that more than half of Air Force and Space Force members experienced some type of mental or physical abuse while in orders.

Out of approximately 70,000 individuals who responded to the survey, 48% of men and two-thirds of women reported that they experienced “interpersonal violence” in the military ranging from belittling jokes and comments to physical altercations, such as sexual assault, harassment, and workplace violence.

Sexual assault in the military is a serious issue, as is the fact that many individuals feel uncomfortable and unsafe in reporting this behavior. The Integration Response Co-Location pilot program will hopefully bring positive results in service members feeling like they have resources easily accessible to them.

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