Academy fights 'the good fight' against sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Capt. Ricky Ricciardi
  • Academy Public Affairs
The men and women of the U.S. Air Force Academy have committed themselves at every level to eradicating sexual assault, creating a climate that fosters respect for human dignity, and producing lieutenants committed to building a culture of respect and professionalism across the Air Force.

"Sexual assault has no place in our Air Force," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III. "We live in a culture of respect. We cherish our core values of integrity, service and excellence. But, in order to ensure all Airmen experience and benefit from those values, we must eliminate sexual assault from our ranks."

A critical element in eliminating sexual assault here is the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, overseen by Col. Stella Renner, the Academy's vice commandant of cadets. Renner also oversees human relations training and education here and the Peak Performance Center, or college counseling center.

"We're working to provide our cadets with the resources and the ability to reach out and get help across the spectrum of services the Academy offers," Renner said.

The SAPR program, established DOD-wide in 2005, facilitates sexual assault prevention training for each installation. SAPR education begins for cadets and cadet candidates during their respective basic training and continues through their remaining years at the Academy, said Teresa Beasley, the Academy's sexual assault response coordinator.

"We are probably some of the first people to define sexual assault for the basic cadets, and for some it may be the first time they realize that something that happened to them in the past may have been a sexual assault," Beasley said. "If basic cadets feel they were assaulted prior to their arrival at the Academy, we encourage them to step forward, report the assault, and receive help."

In addition to annual training, world-class speakers challenge cadets to examine their thinking about respecting others, sexual attitudes and behaviors. Freshman cadets attend "Sex Signals," an awareness-raising lecture; sophomore cadets and Academy Prep School students participate in partner-consent training; junior cadets receive perpetrator training; and senior cadets receive training on addressing attitudes and beliefs that can affect climate and morale.

This cadet training is only a small part of how the Academy prepares future lieutenants as Airmen. Civilians at all levels including squadron commanders, athletic coaches, instructor pilots, and staff and faculty members help the SAPR team echo a message of dignity and respect.

"It's every Airman's responsibility to be a SAPR advocate," said Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson. "This is a one-team, one-fight issue and we all need to be on board with not only addressing the issue here in ways that ensures it never happens, but we need to properly equip every Airman here, including our cadets, to build a culture based on those principles we all hold dear: respect, dignity, Airmanship. The cadets need to learn how to fight the good fight against sexual assault wherever they are."

To this end, visiting professor Dr. Chris Kilmartin has arrived at the Academy to teach Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Men and Masculinity in the Behavioral Sciences and Leadership Department for 2013-2014.

Kilmartin said he hopes to inspire cadets to speak out when they hear something negative and reinforce the positive to foster a climate of dignity and respect.

"I want to bring this education to as many Academy staff and cadets as possible, especially those in leadership roles," Kilmartin said. "There is good evidence that leaders can have a really strong deterrent effect."

As the Air Force continues to tackle sexual assault issues, Airmen must be engaged and educated to eliminate the problem, said Layla Hernandez, one of the SAPR office's three staff members directly responsible for training more than 4,000 cadets and Academy Airmen on sexual assault issues.

"We need to engage the 99 percent of people we know are good and get them to understand that prevention training is about making the Academy the place it should be," Hernandez said.

All Airmen are responsible in wiping sexual assault from the Air Force's map, Johnson said.

"Sexual assault is a crime and is categorically unacceptable. It is incompatible with our core values and it is harmful to our people - there is a human cost when some crosses those boundaries and it makes us less effective in our core mission, producing lieutenants for our Air Force and 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 in this at the Air Force's Academy."

For more information,visit the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response page hereor go to