An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Sexual assault prevention: Own it!

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Rufino Gonzalez
  • 509th Operations Group
When we talk about preventing the crime of sexual assault, we are talking about before the crime happens. We've all participated in sexual assault education through mass auditorium in-person programs, smaller focus group discussions and one-on-one interactions with your local Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC). Keeping that type of education in mind, we find ourselves asking the questions: What does prevention mean? What do we think can make preventing sexual assault more effective?

Personally, I believe prevention starts with effective supervisor involvement. This is my seventh base assignment and I have never been directly involved in a shop, element, branch, flight, squadron or group that was affected with a serious (conviction by court-martial, non-judicial punishment or punitive administrative action) issue related to sexual assault/harassment. Does that mean they never happened without our knowledge? No, but I also know my supervisor at my first duty station made sure to square me away from day one, fresh out of completion of technical training.

Squared me away: "what does that mean," you may ask. Well, she got to know me from the very moment I stepped into my shop. We went to the dining facility and took an extended lunch, where she asked me about my family, where I was from, set-up an intro to meet my spouse, wanted to know when both our birthday's and anniversary were, asked me about my mom/dad, brothers/sisters, grandma/grandpa, aunts/uncles, cousins, high school teacher/coach, etc. She also wanted to know about my childhood, my beliefs, values, religion and any activities that made me happy like sports, hobbies and school. She also introduced me to her family, all while letting me know who she was as well.

She made it personal and intrusive but always mindful of the profession we are in and the challenges we will face together as one team. This wasn't more evident to me than when she introduced herself for the very first time, she said "Hello, welcome to Ellsworth Air Force Base. My name is Deb, but you can call me Staff Sgt. Hartsock." She also read me in on the Strategic Air Command and bomb wing mission, how I fit into that mission and ran through the chain of command.

She was ultimately my own personal equal opportunity specialist or first sergeant. She deliberately made it a point to explain what was acceptable and unacceptable as a member of not only the military but as a member of society itself. When you have an effective supervisor that sets a good example and is highly motivated, it's likely that you will want to follow in their footsteps and do everything within your power to be loyal and feel totally obligated not to let them down, ever.

While we may have our own personal feelings about the effectiveness of the sexual assault/harassment training we've received throughout our careers, I know one thing: it starts with supervisors who get to know their Airmen. Let's also not forget our SARCs, victim advocates, medical and law enforcement personnel who, on a daily basis, provide an outstanding support system to victims in their time of need. But we, as supervisors, must also play a major role in solving this issue, "we must own it!"

We also have to succeed in maintaining work centers free of any and all behaviors that hinder our Airmens' ability to achieve their full potential and maximize their contributions. My supervisor, in particular, accepted the NCO charge to develop me and always reminded me that I shouldn't sit on the sidelines when I see a "wrong" and I never wanted to let her down, so I didn't. Specifically, throughout my career, when I heard or witnessed the beginning of a sexual (or harassment) in nature conversation or action in my shop, I professionally and tactfully confronted that individual or group of workers immediately, regardless of rank. In almost every instance, they stopped. In those rare cases where they repeated their offense, I reported it to my supervisor and I stopped it cold in its tracks.

Getting to know your Airmen also means that you may very well be in a good position to identify the next predator in line waiting and you need to quickly be ready to square them away or show them the door out of our great Air Force. As you see, I have no magic master plan for combatting this problem we face today with sexual assaults and harassment. However, it's simple. Supervisors: Own it!, Get to know your Airmen, develop and  set them up for success and react to our victims loud or silent calls for help. Airmen: Don't stand on the sidelines. Hold your fellow Airmen accountable when you see a wrong.