Air Force offers more privacy to victims of sexual harassment with new policy
Victims of sexual harassment serving in the Air Force and Space Force will now have more privacy and control over reporting incidents under a new policy introduced by the service to protect service members.
The policy, which went into effect Sept. 30, allows Department of the Air Force service members to report sexual harassment without restriction, which would trigger an investigation with the Office of Equal Opportunities. grassroots opportunity, or a restricted report, which allows confidential disclosure of an incident and does not notify the chain of command while providing victim advocacy services. Previously, these two options were limited to sexual assault cases.
“For service members who experience this harmful behavior, it can be crippling, preventing them from coming forward for fear of further harassment or perceived lack of support from their leaders or colleagues,” Brig said. Gen. Debra A. Lovette, Director of Integrated Resilience, said in a statement. “This new policy will allow service members to report confidentially, if they wish, while continuing to receive support and care…”
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The policy change also now allows members to request sexual harassment and sexual assault services from the same office, according to a news release on Tuesday. Previously, victims were often referred to file a sexual harassment complaint with Equal Opportunity, but did not have as many options for support.
The Navy made a similar policy change last July, which allowed sailors to report “restricted” or confidential, even if they informed officers in their chain of command, including their commanding officer, of a sexual assault. The move was intended to give victims more flexibility and control over the handling of their case by giving them access to medical treatment and advocacy options without taking away the choice of having the incident investigated at a later date.
In the Air Force, a restricted report is confidential and offers resources from a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) or Sexual Assault Victim Advocate (SAPR), but would not loop through the Equal Opportunity Office or notify the service member’s command “unless there is written consent from the service member or, if there is a clear and health and safety of the service member or another person,” according to a press release issued Tuesday by the service detailing the changes.
The new policy comes as the Air Force relies on reports of frequent instances of physical and mental abuse within the ranks, and in the wake of high-profile cases in the military, such as harassment sex and the subsequent murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen in 2020.
Earlier this year, at the behest of President Joe Biden and sparked by the outcry over Guillen’s death, sexual harassment was made a single crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Survey results compiled in a wide-reaching November 2021 report by the services found that more than half of Air Force and Space Force personnel have experienced some type of mental abuse. or physical while under their command.
Of the approximately 70,000 active duty, reserve and civilian personnel who responded to the survey, approximately two-thirds of women and 48% of men reported “interpersonal violence”, ranging from psychological incidents such as jokes rude or belittling and bullying to examples of physical violence such as sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or workplace violence.
Additionally, a 2021 Pentagon report released in late August found that 8% of active duty women and about 1.5% of active duty men reported experiencing some form of unwanted sexual contact.
The new policy is the latest in recent Department of the Air Force orders to streamline victim advocacy services.
On August 1, the service launched the “Integrated Response Collocation Pilot Program,” which placed sexual assault advocates and religious counselors from seven bases under one roof at each base.
In the United States, the pilot program launched at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; Vandenberg Space Force Base, California; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Overseas, the initiative is being tested at Misawa Air Base, Japan, as well as Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the UK.
“Sexual harassment does not reflect who we are as an organization and has no place in the military,” Lovette said in a statement.
— Thomas Novelly can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.
Related: Air Force launches program to help victims of sexual assault and harassment at 7 bases
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