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New sex assault prevention campaign looks to 'every airman' for ideas

Jul. 15, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer triggered an avalanche of ideas when he challenged airmen with Every Dollar Counts in May — more than 11,000 cost-cutting suggestions tumbled out across the service. He wants the same overwhelming feedback for a like-minded campaign targeting sexual assault set to begin Tuesday morning.

Called Every Airman Counts, a blog on the Air Force portal will provide a place for anonymous feedback — new ideas on how to reduce these crimes, what you think works and what you think is a waste of time, concerns, criticisms, thoughts and personal experiences. If you’d rather not share your thoughts publicly, you can note that in your feedback, which is moderated before being posted online.

“Oftentimes airmen think this issue doesn’t apply to them, but it does. Sexual assault affects each and every one of us — this is everyone’s issue,” Spencer said in a statement to Air Force Times. “It’s important airmen understand that we are collectively responsible for our environment. If we all focus our efforts on this problem, we can build environments where perpetrators have difficulty operating and victims feel comfortable coming forward.”

Every Airman Counts is the first major initiative out of the revamped Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Office at the Pentagon since Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward took the helm this summer. A lieutenant colonel had previously run the office of two; the Air Force put a two-star in charge and added 29 positions to the office following the ex-chief’s arrest on a sexual battery charge in May.

“Our intent is to provide an anonymous forum that allows us to continue hearing ideas from our brilliant airmen,” Woodward said in a statement to Air Force Times. “I truly believe they have the answers to this issue, we just need to provide them an opportunity to be heard, whether anonymously or by name.”

The new campaign follows a Defense Department-wide sexual assault prevention standdown day, ordered across all the services after a Pentagon report revealed more than 26,000 military men and women said they experienced some kind of unwanted sexual contact in 2012. Unwanted sexual contact is defined as intentional contact against a person’s will or without a person’s consent and ranges from rape to inappropriate touching.

“We can’t fix this issue by sitting in the Pentagon. We need airmen engaged at every level,” said Lt. Col. Jill Whitesell, an Air Force spokeswoman. “We hope it will stimulate discussion of issues at a grass-roots level. We want to empower airmen to help find ways to combat this issue. We hope to hear from victims. How could we have served you better?”

Woodward is also seeking input from experts in other branches of the military and in the civilian sector, as well as from advocacy groups like Service Women’s Action Network, she said.

“This is the first of several initiatives we are conducting to hear from our airmen,” Woodward said. “In addition to the blog, we will conduct Web chats with senior leaders, we will conduct focus groups and also will ask our airmen to provide us feedback through the use of surveys. Our research and analysis team will then analyze this information to help identify where the issues are, so we can focus our resources effectively. We also plan to share what we learn with the airmen so we can keep them engaged in combating this problem.”

The blog opens with a video message from Spencer who says he knows airmen didn’t come to the portal to watch a video of him.

He asks for a few minutes of their time to listen to an important message.

He requests the same energy and enthusiasm airmen showed for Every Dollar Counts. The new initiative “is about you, our airmen,” Spencer says. “Our strength lies in our people. And if you are not performing to the best of your ability, then our mission to fly, fight and win is jeopardized. The American people place great trust and confidence in our military. We cannot and will not violate that trust.”

The vice chief vows to start doing more to “celebrate those who stand up for what is right around here ... to throw our full resources at stomping out the heinous crimes being committed.”

You can access the blog on the Air Force portal starting at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

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