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Sexual Assault Awareness Month encourages bystander intervention

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Air Force is observing Sexual Assault Awareness Month, starting April 1.

The Defense Department theme for the month is "Hurts one. Affects all," which is designed to point out how sexual assault affects not only the victim, but the department as well. The Air Force's slogan supporting the DDD theme is "Real Wingmen Act!" emphasizing the duty of all Airmen to intervene whenever they see questionable behavior.

"If all wingmen intervene when someone is starting to cross the line with another wingman, they will play a vital role in creating an Air Force culture in which sexual assault is not tolerated," said Lt. Col. Craig McCuin, the deputy program manager for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program. "Perpetrators of sexual assault rely on bystander inaction in the hopes they can commit this crime and not get caught."

The idea is one of bystander intervention, McCuin said.

"Bystander intervention is an all-out effort to get its people to engage in preventing sexual assault," the colonel said. Not only will bystander intervention prevent the physical and psychological injuries that occur when an assault happens, but it will also prevent damage done to the unit as a whole.

That's where "Hurts one. Affects All." comes in.

"Sexual assault happens directly to an individual, but can indirectly affect everyone in a unit, as well as the victim's family and friends," McCuin said.

Sexual assaults diminish the Air Force's ability to function proficiently at all levels.

"The mention of mission readiness together with the toll sexual assault takes on the victim is not meant to be callous," the colonel said. "It's just that we all need to understand the far- reaching impact a sexual assault can have on the victim and everyone else around them."

Some of the mission-related damages sexual assault incurs can include a loss of trust in the unit members or leaders, McCuin said. There is also the possibility that the victim and subjects may be temporarily, or permanently, unable to fulfill their obligation to the military due to physical condition, mental state or incarceration.

"Regardless of the extent of the assault or the situation in which it happened, both the victim and the Air Force will be greatly impacted," McCuin said. But, if every Airman acted to stop sexual assault, we could nearly eliminate every case of it.

"The 'Real Wingmen Act' slogan means that wingmen always act, on or off duty, in the certain knowledge that all persons possess fundamental worth as human beings," McCuin said. "The key is to change perceptions and help Airmen understand that their actions on behalf of another are not meddling, but instead are helping to keep a fellow Airman safe."