Tag Archives: SAPR

Sexual assault survivor: One Airman’s story

By a Survivor

Sexual assault is a hot topic — one addressed in annual training and at commander’s calls throughout the Air Force — yet the details of victims’ stories are seldom mentioned. This is understandable. These crimes against service members are intensely personal. Also, as many survivors have learned, listeners don’t always know how to respond appropriately, which can make sharing one’s story awkward, even painful.

This is unfortunate. As humans we are drawn to stories. We reflect upon them and even internalize some of their values, ideas and attitudes. Stories communicate with extraordinary effectiveness, enabling us to learn not only from personal experience but also from others’ experiences. Are we missing out on a potentially powerful tool in the world of sexual assault prevention? Perhaps calling on survivors to bravely share their stories holds real potential for making those serving alongside them more aware of sexual assault and of ways they can prevent it in their spheres of influence. To that end, here is my story.

Like most men I know, I never really thought much about sexual assault. I saw the issue as predominately a female problem that only happened to males under highly unusual circumstances and in unusual settings, such as prison. So, each year I endured the Air Force’s mandatory sexual assault training but never examined people in my life for indicators of predatory behavior, or spent any time considering issues like stalking, grooming, or consent. Little did I know that, like many other victims of both genders, I was oblivious to the impending threat until it was too late. Continue reading Sexual assault survivor: One Airman’s story

Everyone must do their part

By Staff Sgt. Antonio Gonzalez
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

One in three women are sexually assaulted over their lifetime, and I have a problem with that statistic. In my world, it’s three out of three: my mother, my sister and my wife.

Earlier in January, I attended the first-ever Sexual Assault Prevention Summit as one of 150 active-duty, reserve, guard and civilian Airmen from all ranks and demographics. The very first thing we were asked was: “How many of you know someone who has been sexually assaulted?” Almost all 150 hands raised in unison. Continue reading Everyone must do their part

Finding light through darkness

By Senior Airman Dennis Sloan
Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

lightindarknessKeeping a secret that defines you, that has shaped your life for nearly three years now and is sure to shape the rest, a secret that you go to sleep with every night and wake to every morning is sometimes hard to keep trapped inside.

I could probably go my entire life without revealing the sad truth that I was raped, but to stay silent is to allow individuals who prey upon the innocent to flourish.

Exactly one day after photographing Airmen proudly marching through the streets of a city receiving joyous responses and unanimous support for their sacrifice of service to the United States of America, I was sexually assaulted by a male Airman.

That secret is one that took me nearly a year to even reveal to my mother and I have yet to reveal to the majority of my family or friends. The Airmen I serve alongside every day have no idea that I’m a victim of sexual assault – until now.

Some people may wonder why I would reveal my story in such a public forum, and the truth is I hope this story reaches a person, a son, a friend or even an Airman who has been sexually assaulted, and it allows them some peace in knowing they are not alone no matter how dark their days may seem.

In my case, I reported my assault within a matter of days because I knew if I buried the truth it would overcome me and the result would be fatal. I initially filed a restricted report, but once I gained strength and understanding of my situation I then filed an unrestricted report.

After being sexually assaulted, many victims, including myself, are very confused about the situation and blame themselves for what happened. Large amounts of alcohol, isolation and subduing played a huge factor in my sexual assault. You can imagine waking to this reality the next morning as if it were a nightmare, but this nightmare was real and would continue to play over and over again in my head for months following the assault.

Filing an unrestricted report opened me up to a world of re-victimization. The Office of Special Investigations called me within hours of filing my unrestricted report to conduct an interview. The interview consisted of me recounting my sexual assault down to the minutest detail. I understood the interview must be done to gather evidence to potentially bring the perpetrator to justice, but no matter how many people warned me of that interview I could never have been prepared.

I am not discouraging victims from filing an unrestricted report, but they shouldn’t walk in blindly. Reliving one’s experience is painful. Yet, by involving law enforcement, you just might prevent another sexual assault.

The effects of my sexual assault, filing an unrestricted report and knowing the perpetrator was still at the base I lived on started to pour into my work. Less than six months prior to my assault I was chosen by my office to sit in front of the Below the Zone board with the intent to achieve the rank of senior airman well before others because of my dedication to service and my craft. You can imagine how strange it may seem to leadership that an Airman who was considered one of the best in an office could all of a sudden change.

There was a large amount of misunderstanding between me and my office. I was not willing to reveal my situation to them and in return it left them with little knowledge of why I was not performing as well, coming in late and almost not there, in a sense, even when I was.

I struggled to find sleep every night, and even when I did, I would wake hourly from a dream relating to my sexual assault. When I would try and do my job, my mind was always replaying the incident over and over again. I became isolated and constantly worried people knew about my situation, which caused me a great deal of anxiety.

I cannot lie, I did think about suicide for some time, but it never came to that thankfully.

One day while photographing a flying squadron at my base I had what I call a moment of clarity. I spent the majority of the day photographing Airmen fixing engines, marshalling aircraft and everything in-between. It wasn’t until I returned to my dorm at night that I realized I had not thought once about my sexual assault or even the struggles in my office. I was free for a day.

That day didn’t last very long though. Once I laid my head down that night all of it came roaring back into my brain. A short amount of relief, but still it was a silence I had not heard in so long. That night, I decided if I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live, but knew I could not take my own life, that I would give myself to the one thing that silenced it all … photography.

I started slow, and when I arrived at my new base thanks to a humanitarian assignment, I still had some hurdles to overcome. But, through counseling and a steady diet of photography, I was moving forward for the first time in a long time. Even now, years after being sexually assaulted and dealing with being misunderstood, every time I raise the camera up to my right eye I feel peace, I hear nothing and see everything.

Life is definitely different for me now. When I devoted my life to photography nearly three years ago, I wasn’t quite sure what that meant and still don’t. But, photography keeps me breathing, keeps me feeling, keeps me alive. I constantly search for the light that brings silence to my pain.

Being a victim of sexual assault is not something that is easily described, but to put it into perspective, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder not only from the assault, but the prolonged exposure to a hostile environment at my base that plagues me to this day. I still struggle to find sleep, struggle to communicate with others and most of all I struggle with the idea of sharing my life with another person.

The person who raped me had no regard for how the assault would affect me. The crime he committed has little to do with passion and a lot to do with control, manipulation and taking power away from someone. Through this commentary I hope to regain some of that power and control he stripped from me and give other victims of sexual assault some as well.

Very few men report being sexually assaulted and I believe that is because they fear how society will view them, how they’ll be judged and how they even may be considered less of a man. So I ask everyone who reads this: I am a male and I was sexually assaulted — do you think less of me?

PHOTO: Senior Airman Dennis Sloan walks on the flightline in search of a photo May 5, 2013 at Joint Base Charleston, S.C. A victim of sexual assault, Sloan says his passion for photography keeps him breathing and offers solace from his otherwise painful memories. Sloan is a 628th Air Base Wing Public Affairs photojournalist. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman George Goslin/Released)

AF encourages Airmen to be key part of SAPR solution

Gen. Spencer, Air Force vice chief of staffby Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

In an effort to address the growing concern of sexual assault in the Air Force, the service has kicked off an initiative to give Airmen the capability for their voice to be clearly heard called “Every Airman Counts.”

“I believe Airmen are a key part of the solution to this,” said. Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward, the director of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office. “They understand the problem, and they know what needs to be done to help conquer it. Now we need them to share those innovative ideas with us and each other. We need our Airmen talking about this issue.”

To enable this dialogue, the Air Force SAPR office members designed a blog to share ideas, collect suggestions, concerns, stories, and questions for Air Force leaders and SAPR officials. The SAPR blog site asks Airmen to make inputs on how the service can better combat sexual assault.”We can’t fix this issue sitting in the Pentagon,” said Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force vice chief of staff. “We need each and every one of you to get engaged in addressing this issue… this crime, and it is a crime. We need to know exactly where you feel the issues are, so we can address them with laser focus. I need every one of you helping us find ways to ensure dignity and respect are prevailing qualities in our daily relationships.”

Content on the site will be driven in part by Airmen making firsthand posts. In addition to the blog, the Air Force is organizing web chats that will be moderated forums for real-time information exchange between Airmen, subject matter experts and senior leaders.

Various experts in the SAPR area will host these discussions to gain a better understanding of the issues at every level.

“We’ve been doing a lot of talking on this issue,” Woodward said. “It’s important that we listen.”

The SAPR blog is just one of many actions the Air Force is pursuing to help address the issues sexual assault within the ranks and to offer support for victims. Other actions include the creation of the Special Victims Counsel program earlier this year, which provides constant support to sexual assault victims throughout the legal process.

Airmen can view the blog and make posts by logging into the Air Force portal with their Defense Department Common Access Card, and clicking on the photo tab titled Every Airman Counts or go to http://afsapr.dodlive.mil.

“‘Every Airman Counts is about you, our Airmen, our most precious resource,” Spencer said. “Our strength lies in our people, so we’re asking all of our teammates to help us stop sexual assaults now. The American people place great trust and confidence in our military. We cannot and will not violate that trust.”

PHOTO: Gen. Larry Spencer, the Air Force vice chief of staff, encourages Airmen to get involved with “Every Airman Counts”. The initative is designed to foster communication between Airmen and senior leaders about sexual assault prevention and response. (U.S. Air Force graphic)