Sexual Assault is Sexual Misconduct
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a mandatory “Wingman Day” facilitated by 8th Fighter Wing leaders. If you are familiar with mandatory training, that may have seemed like sarcasm; at least that’s what a few of my peers thought when I shared with them how impressed I was with the event. However, it is not. I believe every base should host a Wingman Day.
Many times, our leaders talk about change but never take action. So when my commander actually put action behind his words, I respected it. In 14 years of service, this is the first time I can remember dedicating a day to discuss an issue facing our Air Force today. Usually, there’s a brief mention of the issue in a commander’s call and nothing more.
This “Wingman Day” consisted of informative briefs from the legal, Equal Opportunity, Sexual Assault and Prevention offices and the chapel staff, and was led by the wing commander. There were peer discussions on what we can do as Airmen to effect change. In my view, the briefs provided some much-needed clarity regarding sexual misconduct in particular.
Many of us know that sexual assault is a crime, but I would bet that not many people truly grasp the sophisticated delineations involved. Along with a lack of education, there are many misperceptions and this makes prevention and intervention challenging.
Sexual misconduct is any unwelcomed behavior of a sexual nature committed without consent or by force. This is where sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual contact, consent, aggravated sexual assualt are categorized.
The term sexual assault has been used as an umbrella term in place of sexual misconduct to classify all activities sexual or egregious in nature. Yet, sexual assault is defined as a specific offense that is “an intentional and serious act.” The difference is nuanced, and may be confusing to the average Airman, who may be experiencing different forms of sexual misconduct, like inappropriate comments, which is sexual harassment. The misidentification of these terms also creates potential difficulties for victims.
Awareness is the key! Sure, we receive drive-by training for one hour once a year. But I would argue that while well-intentioned, that is not enough training the equip Airmen for situations this complex. Memory is short-lived; people cannot tell you what they ate yesterday, but are expected to recall, comprehend and reiterate definitions and strategies to combat sexual misconduct, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual contact and consent after receiving one hour of training on the topic.
Sexual misconduct in the military undermines our core values, degrades unit cohesion and decreases readiness. As leaders, we have to become proactive instead of reactive.
Even though there are programs in the Department of Defense to help prevent, intervene, and respond to sexual misconduct, our Air Force needs a new way to implement education initiatives and promote awareness through training that is well-informed and repetitive.
Only time will reveal the significance “Wingman Day” had on our wing. Nonetheless, by setting aside a full day of normal operations to discuss sexual misconduct, and other important topics, it sent a message to me and all Airmen within the 8th Fighter Wing that this is serious and should not be taken lightly.
I believe this model of more frequent and in-depth discussion is the way forward. I urge Airmen of all ranks to welcome these types of training and see the bigger picture before complaining in the future. A mentor once told me “You can either be a part of the problem or the solution.” This day of training, however “inconvenient” or “unwanted” by critics, may just have prevented countless acts of sexual misconduct in the future.
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