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Sexual Assault Awareness Month

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Heather McNeil, 169th Force Support Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C. (Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Heather McNeil, 169th Force Support Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C. (Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Watson/Released)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. -- When you think about safety and being a good wingman, what are the first thoughts that come to your mind? Many people think about drinking and driving. Others think about suicide prevention and how being a good wingman means that you will Ask, Care and Escort your wingman to safety. I would like to propose a thought process to add to your default bank of ideas for good wingmanship. A good wingman will be active in mitigating sexual assault. Additionally, a good wingman will provide proper care if an assault does occur, perhaps not on their watch. 

We all have been inundated with the consequences of drinking and driving and ensuring a designated driver is present has become second nature for most Airmen. Driving is not the only unsafe behavior for Airmen under the influence. I recently spoke with a victim's advocate from Joint Base Charleston and discovered that over 90% of sexual assault cases involve alcohol. 

Being a good wingman is not merely about ensuring there is a designated driver, but also about being observant and non-complacent. There are more individuals involved in an assault than just the perpetrator and the victim. A facilitator is a person who enables or creates an environment that allows a perpetrator to act. By encouraging someone to consume more alcohol than they intend to, you could be facilitating a sexual assault. A bystander is someone who sees the potential for assault but either does not know how to act or feels like he or she has no responsibility in the actions of others.

Being a good wingman prevents you from being a bystander or facilitator and can prevent a sexual assault. An alarming statistic shows that 80% of sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance. Be vigilant! Do not allow yourself to be a facilitator or a bystander. Take action when you see a situation that looks like it is not going in a safe direction. But what do you do if you suspect someone was a victim of a sexual assault?

I would like to put forward a proposal discussed in my working group at the SNCOA Advanced Leadership Experience. We know how to be a good wingman if we suspect suicide, but what do you do if you suspect someone has been the victim of a sexual assault? It can get confusing with the different reporting options and military versus civilian status. We discussed using a model similar to the ACE called ACT; Ask, Care and Tell. I'm not talking about telling law enforcement or the chain of command and limiting a victim's reporting options. I'm talking about telling someone who can provide the proper care for the victim.

Our base SARC (Sexual Assault and Response Coordinator) is Capt. Marian Burgess. She has been trained to provide proper care and resources or referrals for victims of sexual assault. This is always a great first step if you know that someone is or was in a military status at the time of the assault. Capt. Burgess can explain the reporting options clearly and allow the victim to receive proper care without feeling pressured to report something they are uncomfortable with.

If you are not sure whether the victim was in a military status or not, you can always use our chaplains. They are also trained in the proper response to sexual assault victims and they have 100% confidentiality while reporting options are determined. This will still allow the victim to receive proper medical treatment and mental and spiritual care in a time of trauma. 

A good wingman is more than a designated driver. A good wingman knows how to take mitigating actions to prevent sexual assault. When a sexual assault occurs it affects all of us. It impacts mission readiness. That is why it is each wingman's responsibility to engage. Be aware. Be a good wingman instead of a facilitator or a bystander. If you encounter someone who is a victim, ACT.