Briefing for young airmen takesdirect approach to sexual assault
July 25, 2004
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — About 4,000 airmen at this northern Japan base are required to sit through two hours of frank talk about sex.
The mandatory wing briefing isn’t about moral virtues or “the birds and the bees,” but about sexual assault — what it is, how to prevent it and how to report it.
Less than a year after former Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. William Begert ordered a review of PACAF sexual assault cases, Pacific bases are launching their inaugural Sexual Assault Facts and Education (SAFE) briefing.
PACAF mandated the training after the Begert study found 92 reports of rape from 2001 to 2003 and flaws in how the cases were handled.
Most bases have already held initial SAFE briefings. Misawa held its first sessions Thursday and Friday at the Mustsu Officers’ Club. Brig. Gen. Bill Rew said the 35th Fighter Wing could have started the training sooner but he wanted to fine-tune the message and delivery, targeting it to airmen under 25, the age group most likely to be involved in sexual assault cases, according to PACAF figures.
Rew said he sat through the briefing for the first time about six weeks ago.
“I gave it an ‘F’ because it was geared at the 45-year-old senior officer level,” he said.
Under the direction of Lt. Col. Eric Bee, the 35th Fighter Wing staff judge advocate, the program was revamped to get the attention of the Air Force’s youngest members. PACAF provided a training module but gave each base flexibility to tailor their programs, officials said.
“It’s very direct, sometimes blunt, using … an in-your-face kind of approach,” Rew said.
Friday’s briefing began with a videotape: Members of Misawa’s theater guild acted out a scenario in which two airmen, a man and woman, begin the evening drinking with friends. Both get intoxicated and end up in the male’s room. He gives her a foot massage and the video skips ahead to the next morning, where the airmen wake up in bed together, and the female looks shocked and ashamed as she quickly looks under the covers.
Bee said the situation is a common one in sexual assault cases. “In the vast majority, alcohol was involved and not just a few drinks — lots and lots of alcohol,” he said.
The question of whether sexual assault occurred always comes down to consent, he said, and alcohol complicates the issue.
One airman in the briefing asked what if alcohol use impairs both the man’s and woman’s judgment, where the woman doesn’t mean “yes” and the man is too drunk to know what he’s doing.
Bee and Capt. Melinda Greene, the wing’s assistant staff judge advocate, said voluntary intoxication is not a defense, and in such a case, the man could be found at fault.
A Misawa first sergeant backed that lesson with a story about an airman he knew who spent 18 months locked up for rape. Both were drunk. She thought she was saying “yes” to her boyfriend, he said.
“If someone’s very intoxicated, which is a common theme around here, they may not be able to consent and then that’s a crime,” Bee said. “That’s a tough message for somebody who is 20 years old.”
Men and women were separated for a portion of the briefing. Bee spoke to the men, driving home the point that “no means no.”
“If you have sexual intercourse and you don’t have a clear ‘yes,’ you’ve got rape,” he said, making the airmen stand up and repeat the mantra, “Anything but a clear yes equals no.”
Bee said it boils down to clear communication, urging the airmen to think in terms of having an unwritten contract for each step in physical intimacy. “Just because she’s consented to kissing … doesn’t mean she’s consented to sex,” Bee said.
Sexual assault isn’t defined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but can fall under a range of crimes, from rape or attempted rape to indecent assault and indecent acts, Bee said.
In a separate room, Greene told the women not to get so drunk that they lose control or awareness; if they plan to drink heavily, enlist a buddy to look out for them, she suggested.
“Take care of each other,” she said.
She gave examples of passive resistance if alone with a male in an uncomfortable situation: Get a Coke and walk out the door or pretend to have a sexually transmitted disease.
“Every time I talk to victims of sexual assault, the common theme is … ‘I froze, I didn’t know what to do,’” Greene said.
How about, “Get off me?” Greene suggested, having the women shout the words in unison.
Other topics covered included false reporting — don’t mistake regret for a crime, Greene said — and how to report a suspected rape. Cards with telephone numbers for agencies such as law enforcement and the emergency room were passed out.
Staff Sgt. Ronell Taylor, 26, a unit deployment manager for the 35th Communications Squadron, said the training was helpful, “especially for the young guys straight out of basic training and tech school. Most of them are 18 or 19, they’re still immature and don’t know the ins and outs of consent.”
The briefings are just one way Misawa leaders hope to address the issue of sexual assault. In response to the PACAF study, the base formed a sexual assault response team composed of various agencies, from the Office of Special Investigations to the chaplain.
“We had a lot of services on base … but the problem is we didn’t do a very good job of talking to each other … and making sure the victim knew what services were available,” Bee said.
Working with the Navy at Misawa, which already has a program, the base is training victim liaisons — volunteers on call 24 hours a day to help a possible rape victim cope and seek appropriate services.
Rew said he’s considering banning alcohol from the dorms. “I haven’t made a decision on it,” he said, stressing that he’s not trying to be the “moral police” or trying to change young airmen that grew up on MTV and have different dating rituals than his generation.
“What I am trying to get through to them is that as airmen, we have to respect each other — respect each other’s decency when it comes to sexual relations, and when one partner says ‘no,’ it means ‘no’ — it’s that simple.”
Sexual assault, the general added, is “not something that’s going to be brushed aside and winked at. We need every airman on this team, and we’re not going to prey on each other.”
SAFE in the Pacific
Here’s a look at Sexual Assault Facts and Education (SAFE) training throughout PACAF:
• Kadena Air Base, Okinawa: More than 4,500 personnel at Kadena already received a SAFE briefing, according to base spokesman Chip Steitz. Newcomers and those who missed the initial briefing can catch the training the third Tuesday of every month in Keystone Theater. The briefing for male airmen is at 9 a.m.; female airmen attend the 11 a.m. program. The training is required annually.
• Yokota Air Base, Japan: Yokota held its first SAFE briefing in June, according to base officials. Newly assigned base personnel and those who didn’t go in June are required to attend the next SAFE briefing Tuesday in the base theater at 8 a.m. (women) and 9:30 a.m. (men).
• Misawa Air Base, Japan: Four sessions were held last week. The next sessions are set for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the Mutsu Officers Club Ballroom. Two sessions take place daily at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. The briefing is required for all wing personnel and open to all base residents; tenant command members are encouraged to attend.
• Andersen Air Force Base, Guam: About 900 people attended the first SAFE briefing at Andersen on June 25, base officials said. The next two are scheduled Tuesday and Thursday at the base theater for the following times: women, 1 p.m.; men 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. The training is mandatory for all Andersen active-duty personnel and civilians.
• South Korea: No briefing dates were available from either the 51st Fighter Wing at Osan Air Base or the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base. Officials from both bases, however, said they have multifaceted and robust SAFE programs and are in compliance with the terms of the program. Airmen at both fighter wings receive SAFE training upon arrival to the wing — the same day their plane lands, officials said. Each wing also holds two “commander’s calls” sessions yearly at which SAFE material is addressed prominently. Osan plans to hold sexual assault victim liaison training next month.
— From staff reports