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News > Commentary - Sexual Assault: The human cost
Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson
Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson is the Air Force Academy's 19th superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Sarah Chambers)
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Sexual Assault: The human cost

Posted 10/21/2013   Updated 10/30/2013 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Lt. Gen. Michelle D. Johnson
U.S. Air Force Academy Superintendent

10/21/2013 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.  -- The Air Force's Academy is committed to preventing, deterring and prosecuting sexual assault in its ranks.
Sexual assault is a crime and is categorically unacceptable. It is incompatible with our core values, it is harmful to our people and it makes us less effective in our core mission: Producing lieutenants for our Air Force and leaders for our nation. We cannot succeed in developing leaders of character if the scourge of sexual assault creeps into our ranks, so we must all work together to be the first line of defense against it.

I would like to point out that the Air Force publishes all sexual assault convictions online at www.afjag.af.mil/sexualassaultprosecution/index.asp. Anyone can go online and review more than 100 cases from across the Air Force, to include viewing them by base.

Some may wonder why the Air Force would do this. Isn't this just "airing our dirty laundry?" Not at all. That Air Force commanders take this crime seriously and hold offenders accountable should be made well known.

Airmen, civilian Airmen, cadets and cadet candidates should take note. You only need to read a few pages to understand the life-long impact this crime has on all involved. As a cross-section of society, the Air Force is not immune to the challenges the public faces. In fact, a number of those cases involve Airmen assaulting fellow Airmen or, in our case here at the Air Force's Academy, it's both Airmen assaulting fellow Airmen and cadets assaulting fellow cadets.

These were coworkers and friends -- people who were trusted and maybe even more so because they were fellow Airmen or cadets. There is a human cost involved when someone decides to cross a boundary and that human cost stays with both parties for the rest of their respective lives. The impact on the survivor can be extremely devastating.

I would also like to point out some of the myths surrounding sexual assault, as provided by our Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

Myth: Sexual harassment is the same as sexual assault
These two terms are commonly mixed up. Sexual harassment is defined in Air Force Instruction 36-2706 as "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's employment, (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment."

Sexual assault includes acts that violate Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and include criminal behavior such as rape, sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact and abusive sexual contact.

One simple way to look at the two types of behavior is that sexual assault typically requires some degree of actual or attempted physical contact, while sexual harassment does not.

Myth: Rape is about having sex
Research has proven that rape is about power, control and domination. Rape is not about sex, though it is a violent crime expressed sexually. The victim has not "asked for it" and does not enjoy it. Rape is often life-altering and can be life-threatening. In some cases, it can severely traumatize the victim (www.turningpointservices.org).

Myth: Flirting and suggestive body language is enough consent
This is a myth. Consent, as defined by the UCMJ, is "Words or overt acts indicating a freely given agreement to the sexual conduct at issue by a competent person. An expression of lack of consent through words or conduct means there is no consent. Lack of verbal or physical resistance or submission resulting from the accused's use of force, threat of force or placing another person in fear does not constitute consent. A current or previous dating relationship by itself or the manner of dress of the person involved with the accused in the sexual conduct at issue shall not constitute consent."

So, you can see by these myth-busting facts that sexual assault is not just rape by a violent stranger lurking in the bushes -- it's typically with a known person, possibly culminating a continuum of behavior.

It is our collective responsibility as individuals to look out for these behaviors and stop sexual assault before it has the chance to happen. We need to take care of each other.
I encourage everyone to visit www.afjag.af.mil/sexualassaultprosecution and see not only what the Air Force is doing to hold sexual assault offenders accountable, but what cases have occurred right here at the Air Force's Academy.

Read the case synopses; recognize these situations and behaviors that lead to them in your own or your fellow wingmen's lives and stop them before your name or their names end up on these pages.

Academy Airmen, civilian Airmen, cadets and cadet candidates take care of each other. When a member of our team is vulnerable, it isn't an opportunity to satisfy your own desires -- it's an obligation to make sure they're safe.

11/6/2013 11:33:10 PM ET
I thank and commend General Johnson for the well written article. I further commend the publishing and detailing of each case of this type. I would expect all officers and future officers to follow the rules with regard to sexual harassment and sexual assault. Education is the first step. Hopefully understanding then follows. I regret though that the message isn't getting through and that is a failure of leadership. hopefully General Johnson will use the article as a first step not a final step.Unfortunately there are those few who don't get it. We hear about senior officers involved in quid pro quo sex with subordinates and cadets who believe that if a women allows them to touch them they have a green light for sex or they take advantage of a woman who may be incapacitated through alcohol. Whatever the reason it is unacceptable behavior. Yes I am aware of false claims of rape. And that is an issue. It has been my experience that these claims are exceedingly rare. What a wom
Paul Taylor USAFA 1973, Mount Vernon WA
10/30/2013 12:49:45 AM ET
USAFA 1960. Ah the ability to make something blackwhite that typically is grey. Yes yes - something needs to be done I agree but what many of us in our ill-spent-youth used to enjoy doing above the waist in the back seat at the drive-in would nowadays need an informed consent. Sic transit Gloria.
David Reed M.D.J.D., Boulder C0
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