17th TRW male sexual assault survivor speaks

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  • 17th Training Wing Public Affairs

Trigger warning- this article contains reference to sexual assault-

Was it really assault

Why didn’t you just fight back? 

You’re a man, you must have liked it

A 17th Training Wing male sexual assault survivor had heard it all. 

He will remain anonymous, but came forward to speak about his challenges. 

“All of the people I turned to for help didn’t see it as an issue and blamed me,” he said. “I wrestled with it for a few years. Was I really in the wrong? Like everyone was saying?”

He chose not to report his assault, but through mental health resources, he found clarity. 

“Even though it’s not the victim's fault, it can still feel like it is,” he said. “It can be difficult to announce; even you are talking to a helping service. It took me five years before I could admit what happened.” 

Recently, the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, ordered an Independent Review Commission on sexual assault in the military. The IRC recommended 63 focus areas to combat sexual assault and harassment in the services.

The IRC emphasized the climate and culture surrounding male sexual assault. 

“I think SAPR is not visible in units, people don’t know their resources, and that’s a barrier to reporting,” he said. “In the moment or after an assault, it’s difficult to remember the right path.”

In 2019, the Department of Defense received 7,825 sexual assault reports. But authorities estimate actual numbers of assaults are much higher, especially among male victims. 

The male sexual assault survivor identified a lack of confidence as an additional barrier to why men don’t report sexual assault.  

“Many of our resources are oriented towards helping the victim,” he said as his voice cracked. “But then there’s always the court of public opinion. Restricted reporting can help, but I think there is still the fear of judgment even then. And often, there’s a feeling of shame.”

He mentioned creating an environment where people feel safe to come forward was another barrier. 

“My assault happened when I was not in the military, and it was incredibly nerve-racking to bring it up,” he said.  “I can only imagine what it’s like for someone in uniform when it's a supervisor or in the chain of command.”

“What someone feels is sexual harassment, another person may view as normal office banter,” he said. “That’s where the culture change needs to happen.”

The Air Education and Training Command has ignited that change. 

“AETC is unique because it allows us to shape the next generation of Airmen,” said Tech. Sgt. Gage Tressitt, 17th Training Wing deputy sexual assault response coordinator. “At a training base, Airmen are young in their Air Force career, so it allows us to start addressing culture change early.”

The 17th TRW facilitates the Students Against Sexual Assault and Harassment, or SASH, program. Participating students are ambassadors of the SAPR program. 

“A teal rope then identifies students,” said Tressitt. “As these Airmen move up in the ranks, they will be mentoring the Airmen below them.” 

Creating change is like a domino effect. 

The survivor said change doesn’t happen immediately, he came forward to be the momentum of  the change. 

He looked up, then added, "you are not alone."