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A Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program pin is worn by a service member at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., in 2018.

A Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program pin is worn by a service member at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., in 2018. (Monica Roybal/ Air Force)

A recent update to Air Force personnel policy has made discharge from the service the default consequence for sexual assault convictions.

The Air Force significantly narrowed the criteria allowing members found guilty of sexual assault to remain in the military, according to an internal guidance document published June 24.

“These revisions will significantly improve our ability to discharge those unworthy of calling themselves airmen and guardians,” Air Force Under Secretary Gina Ortiz Jones said in a statement.

Officials are no longer allowed to consider personal, family or financial circumstances, medical or mental health or even good character or service record when making their discharge decision, the service said in a statement.

Mental health factors and military service may be considered only when it comes to the characterization of the final discharge.

Under the new guidance, commanders are mandated to initiate discharge proceedings on members found guilty of sexual assault.

Service members facing the new default discharge for sexual assault must prove that “exception criteria” exist to receive consideration for a lesser consequence.

However, no exceptions will be granted in cases of sexual assault against a child. The previous policy allowed airmen to remain in service if the conduct was “not likely to recur,” a threshold service officials found too subjective.

In addition, members will be denied retention if they have had other substantiated allegations of sexual assault against them, assaulted a victim who was incapable of consenting, used violence during an assault or used their position or rank against a victim.

“These new objective criteria reflect our commitment to justice for sexual assault survivors and accountability of offenders,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said in a statement June 24. “We are determined to maintain a culture of respect for the safety, dignity and personal boundaries of every airmen, guardian and civil servant.”

The Air Force consistently has the lowest sexual assault rates among the services, according to Defense Department data.

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Alexander reports on the U.S. military and local news in Europe for Stars and Stripes in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He has 10 years experience as an Air Force photojournalist covering operations in Timor-Leste, Guam and the Middle East. He graduated from Penn State University and is a Defense Information School alumnus.
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