Strategies to help avoid sexual assault

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Responding to sexual assault has become a critical issue in the Air Force and the military as a whole. The support to victims of sexual assault has been refined through the establishment of the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator offices. So what is next?

The next step is to become proactive regarding sexual assault. How do we work to stop the sexual assaults before they happen? One thing we can all do is look at common scenarios in sexual assaults and avoid those situations. Below are some of the "common" things we find in sexual assault cases:

1. Alcohol - in the past three years at Goodfellow 90 percent of the reported cases had alcohol involved (one or both persons). Alcohol decreases our awareness and our ability to react quickly. We make poor decisions when we are intoxicated. Don't drink; if you do, then drink in moderation and have a plan for being safe and getting back home.

2. Strangers - don't put yourself in situations where you don't have your wingman with you. Go in a group and leave with that group.

3. Unsafe Places - don't go anywhere that you don't feel safe. Trust your instincts/gut feeling. If you feel uneasy; leave and go somewhere safe.

4. Poor Decisions - if it seems like a risky situation then don't do it. Remember your operational risk management process

5. Communication - clearly communicate your desires/limits, be assertive: communicate limits firmly/directly and don't be afraid to leave or make a scene to exit a dangerous situation

6. Plan B - always have a backup plan that includes a person to call and a way to call them if you are in a risky situation.

7. Not Asking for Help - don't be afraid to ask for help; call someone if you need help. Getting help if you are assaulted is likely to reduce the risk of a subsequent assault (The SARC hotline is 325-654-1570).

8. Remember that there can always be a "worst case" scenario. We can plan everything to the maximum and still have bad things (sexual assault) happen. In those cases; get somewhere safe and call the SARC at 325-654-1570 or 911 if you feel you are in danger.

Consent: How not to be accused of sexual assault

We often see information on how not to be a victim of sexual assault. One of the things that I have received significant feedback on in the past months is the need for an article on how not to be accused of sexual assault.

The first thing to address is; is consent given. The Department of the Air Force Policies and Procedures for the Prevention of and Response to Sexual Assault states: "Consent shall not be deemed or construed to mean the failure by the victim to offer physical resistance. Consent is not given when a person uses force, threat of force, coercion or when the victim is asleep, incapacitated or unconscious."

The most commonly-asked question in regard to the "consent" explanation is the "incapacitated" portion. Alcohol is routinely involved in sexual assault scenarios. If someone has been drinking then it is not a sure thing that they can give consent due to intoxication ("incapacitated").

So, what does this mean in a social situation? How many drinks does someone have to consume to meet the "incapacitated" aspect of the policy? Their level of "incapacitation" is determined in court preceding after chargers have been made. They will evaluate the person's mental ability to the extent that the person was incapable of understanding the sexual act, its intended motive or result, and its possible consequences.

Most people do not have the ability to independently determine if a person is incapacitated according to this definition. When you are in court defending yourself against criminal allegations is not a good time to evaluate this concept either. So, the logical action in that scenario is to not have sexual relations with that person until they are in a known state (not intoxicated).

I've been told the best way not to fall off a cliff is not to be looking over the edge. The best way not to be accused of sexual assault is to ensure consent is given. That means if the other person has been drinking and you have sexual relations with them in an intoxicated state; you are looking over the edge of the cliff.

Remember, your strength is for defending; preventing sexual assault is part of your duty.