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Misawa airman who posted on Instagram about sexual harassment was granted a transfer

Misawa Air Base in northern Japan is home to the 35th Fighter Wing.

STARS AND STRIPES

By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 4, 2020

An airman who took to social media to say her reports of sexual harassment were mishandled at Misawa Air Base has been allowed a transfer to another duty station, Task & Purpose reported Thursday.

Airman 1st Class Sarah Figueroa on Oct. 14 posted a photo of herself in uniform to Instagram and wrote that she was “a victim of sexual harassment in the Air Force” by a coworker and complained of the “heartless” way her commander handled her case.

“My commander literally told me not even to my face as i was saying that i am scared for my life (while on a call with my family) that there is nothing left to do,” Figueroa wrote in the post. “… My family was in tears begging him to help me and all he did was defend the guy.”

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The post, which was liked nearly 16,000 times, caught the attention of Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass, who asked Figueroa to contact her via email.

“The CMSAF deeply cares about the safety and well-being of all Airmen, and her interest in Airman 1st Class Figueroa’s situation is no exception,” Pacific Air Forces spokesperson Sgt. Renae Rittman told Stars and Stripes in an email at the time.

Figueroa was subsequently transferred to another duty station “in accordance with her request," Pacific Air Forces said in a statement, according to Task & Purpose. PACAF did not specify the location of Figueroa’s new duty station to protect her privacy, the military news website’s report said.

The command also said it investigated Figueroa’s harasser, a male airman, against whom the commander took “appropriate action,” according to the report.

PACAF did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Friday.

After receiving her transfer orders, Figueroa in an Instagram post on Oct. 29 said that “just because my story is over doesn’t mean the war on sexual harassment is over.”

“No one should ever have to experience what i did,” she wrote. “We signed our lives to fight for yours, not to be sexually harassed, assaulted, retaliated against for speaking out, ignored/isolated/ made broken promises for trying to fight.”

Figueroa wrote in a separate Oct. 29 post of her support for the “I am Vanessa Guillen Act,” which would reform the way the military addressed sexual assault and harassment in the services. Guillen was a 20-year-old Army specialist who prosecutors say was killed this spring by another soldier who she said had sexually harassed her.

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Armed Services on Sept. 16, according to Congress.gov.

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.com
Twitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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My name is Sarah Figueroa and i am a victim of sexual harassment in the air force. I am stationed in Misawa and i was sexually harassed by a coworker. Since i reported this, i’ve faced retaliation in ways you wouldn’t believe. The retaliation has even reached a point of “mistakes” being made for my career development. Last week, i was followed by the airman who sexually harassed and i feared for my life. I thought i was going to die and i prayed over and over again while i was driving. I was able to report this to the military police and my chain of command was notified. I met with my commander this morning and he was the most unprofessional person, he made it obvious this was not important by coming to the meeting 30mins late and defending the guy who sexually harassed me. There is a conflict of interest in this situation, this commander works with that airman. He claims it was just a coincidence that i was followed “because it’s such a small base”. He denied and made excuses for everything i said about the guy who sexually harassed me. My commander literally told me not even to my face as i was saying that i am scared for my life (while on a call with my family) that there is nothing left to do. This man is the most heartless person i have ever met, my family was in tears begging him to help me and all he did was defend the guy. I have tried to reach for help from higher positions outside of my base but the decision to leave ultimately rests on my commander. If you can, please spread this to your platforms. If you know any reporters from any state, it doesn’t even matter if they’re not from florida, please DM me or tag them in this post. God forbid, i will not wait until something happens to me, for me to go missing, for me to be threatened and even further retaliated against for them to help me.

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