Sexual assault in Air Force gets zero tolerance

Janet Taylor-Birkey

A young Airman decides to have a few drinks after a long work week. The Airman loosens up with a few friends and acquaintances, and before the night is over, something has been compromised – their personal space. They are now the victim of a sexual assault.

What should have been a night of fun, turned into a night to remember, but not in a good way.
Cannon leadership knows their team works hard, but they want them to play just as hard – and smart – as they work.
“We want people to know it’s okay to go out there and have some fun, because our Airmen do work hard… that’s evident by the awards they win. It’s okay to have some fun, but you need to be responsible for your actions,” said Capt. Paul Candelaria, a 27th Fighter Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC).
The pleas for safety are not without merit; this summer has already brought two allegations of sexual assault from Cannon Airmen, Captain Candelaria said. In addition to the allegations, there is feedback that some Airmen are trying to encourage their victimized friends to see the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program (SARP) office.
While victims are typically women, “Cannon has had male victims in the past and we don’t want to undermine the fact that males can be victimized also,” Captain Candelaria said. “Males go through a lot of the same things that females go through: the uncertainty, [asking] ‘Did this really happen?’ the shame, the self blame, but with males there are added factors.”

He said these added factors may include societal upbringing of aggression in males and the admonition to be strong. Captain Candelaria said sexual assaults cause men to question their manhood and in male-to-male assault, they begin to question their sexuality, but with professional help, these things may be overcome.
Most outside agencies dealing with victim assault are trained to deal only with females, but SARC is able and willing to help men, pairing them with male victim advocates.

The SAPR office is not designed to give legal advice or counseling, but rather works to connect victims – male and female – with available resources and provide support to the victim, no matter the circumstances behind the assault. This support is given by pairing victims with a same-sex volunteer to guide and let the victim know what is going to happen as they work through various channels to find help.
Some may stereotype that females suffer sexual assaults due to dressing provocatively or drinking, but Captain Candelaria said that is not an excuse for the perpetrator and it’s not the victim’s fault. “Just saying those words to a victim means so much to them. When you say, ‘It’s not your fault,’ most of them say, ‘That’s what I wanted to hear.’”
The SAPR office wants Airmen to know that there is no excuse for sexual assault, and to be cautious when consuming alcohol. “Whenever alcohol is involved, sometimes messages get mixed. What may seem consensual that night could turn out to be an allegation of sexual assault,” Captain Candelaria said.

Besides being careful of alcohol consumption, Airmen can take safety measures, such as going out with a group, and stating with assertiveness and firmness what they want from the beginning of a relationship, he said.
Airmen choosing to violate another person need to be aware of the serious consequences they can incur by their actions. “This is a crime and you will be held accountable,” said Captain Candelaria. “Being drunk is no excuse, not knowing that this is a crime is no excuse.”
Those interested in taking an active role in preventing sexual assault are encouraged to become victim advocates. To find out more about SAPR volunteer opportunities, call Captain Candelaria at 784-1014.