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A Sexual Assault Prevention and Response mural at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.

A Sexual Assault Prevention and Response mural at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. (Courtesy of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing )

KABUL, Afghanistan — An Air Force combat wing at Bagram Air Field has received poor reviews in how it responded to sexual assault among deployed airmen last year, which some advocates said was a troubling issue at the U.S. military’s largest base in Afghanistan.

The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing did not effectively manage its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, according to an audit completed last July by the Air Force Auditing Agency and obtained via a records request.

“Inadequate program oversight” led to the response coordinator for the 455th AEW not properly documenting sexual assault reports and the wing not informing newcomers to the base about resources available to them, the audit found.

Brig. Gen. David Lyons, the wing’s current commander, agreed with the findings, which covered a timeframe before he assumed command of the unit. A wing spokeswoman provided Stars and Stripes a list of changes the wing made to fix deficiencies found by the audit.

Another air wing in the Middle East audited last year, the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, mostly complied with military guidelines on handing sexual assault reports, though it also had a few deficiencies, such as not some responders not completing required training. It’s unclear when programs at the other four wings in the Air Force’s Middle East command were last reviewed.

The results of the two audits were particularly disappointing, as women deployed to combat zones are more likely to be sexually assaulted than at their home station, said Don Christensen, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders.

“It should be a top priority for commanders to ensure all required training is completed and all services are available to survivors,” said Christensen, a former chief prosecutor of the Air Force.

The audit results come amid efforts by the Pentagon to prevent sexual assault within its ranks.

Two-thirds of women in the U.S. military say they have been sexually harassed or assaulted in the service, according to a recent poll by Smithsonian Magazine in conjunction with Stars and Stripes and the Schar School at George Mason University.

The military received 6,769 reports of sexual assault involving servicemembers as either victims or subjects in fiscal year 2017, the latest year there is an official report.

The 455th AEW, which trains and assists the Afghan air force, received three reported sexual assault cases in fiscal year 2017 but did not maintain required paperwork for two of them, the audit found.

“The extremely low report numbers tell me survivors do not know their options and do not have faith in their deployed leadership,” Christensen said.

Personnel are also required to hold monthly meetings about the status of victims and their cases. It is unclear if the Bagram-based wing conducted these meetings, as nothing was recorded in the official database, as required.

Incorrect contact information for the program coordinator was posted at seven out of 10 locations observed, auditors found. The wing also chose not to brief newcomers about resources for victims of sexual assault.

The review shows Bagram officials did not take sexual assault seriously, said Ellen Haring, chief executive at the Service Women’s Action Network, who read copies of the reports.

“Commanders are critical to eliminating sexual assault in the ranks,” Haring said. “If they don’t take it seriously, then their subordinates won’t take it seriously.”

Lyons, the wing’s current commander, now personally briefs newcomers on sexual assault prevention and response programs, the wing spokeswoman said. Twitter: @jplawrence3

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