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Air Force has no room for sexual assault

Kelly Dominguez, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office sexual assault response coordinator, sends a certification notice to a victim advocate in the SAPR Office at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Nov. 27, 2012. Dominguez is responsible for receiving reports of sexual assault, ensuring 24/7 victim response capability, supervising the base's 48 victim advocates and educating and training the base community on how to help maintain the Air Force's zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Ashley J. Woolridge/Released)

Kelly Dominguez, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office sexual assault response coordinator, sends a certification notice to a victim advocate in the SAPR Office at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Nov. 27, 2012. Dominguez is responsible for receiving reports of sexual assault, ensuring 24/7 victim response capability, supervising the base's 48 victim advocates and educating and training the base community on how to help maintain the Air Force's zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Ashley J. Woolridge/Released)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Airmen must abide by myriad rules and regulations, but among the most important is the Air Force's zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual assault.

This commitment to combating sexual assault rests with every Airman, each of whom, from the top down, must be an advocate for professionalism and discipline.

"It's my responsibility to make sure we get the absolute best out of every one of our Airmen, to ensure they can come to work and contribute 100 percent to the mission," said Col. Mark Weatherington, 28th Bomb Wing commander, on his role in keeping Airmen safe. "We owe every one of them an environment where they can excel - an environment free of harassment and sexual assault."

Spearheading this effort is Kelly Dominguez, Ellsworth's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office sexual assault response coordinator. She not only receives reports on sexual assault, but also helps facilitate care for victims and education for base personnel.

"As the SARC, I receive reports of sexual assault, ensure 24/7 victim response capability, supervise the base's 48 victim advocates and provide continuing education and training to the base community," Dominguez explained.

In the event an Airman does need to report a sexual assault incident - defined by the Air Force as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, threats, intimidation, abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent - Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Peterson, 28th BW command chief, said they have several different agencies they can contact, depending on the type of report they wish to file.

A restricted report on sexual assault will allow the victim access to medical and mental health care without starting an investigation to prosecute the perpetrator. An unrestricted report still lets the victim receive the care and support they need, but gives authorities full reign to pursue the person or group responsible.

"Ellsworth has a great program in place," Peterson said. "Individuals who have experienced a sexual assault can report it to anyone in their chain of command, however this becomes an unrestricted report. If the individual wants to get help and does want the report to remain restricted, they can talk to the SAPR office, victim advocates, healthcare workers or chaplains."

Peterson said sexual assault is a crime that thrives in complacent atmospheres, adding that the responsibility for neutralizing the threat rests on everyone's shoulders.

"It starts with not allowing conversations to get out of hand or tolerating unacceptable pictures and jokes in the workplace," Peterson explained. "This also means having the courage to tell your wingman when they are being inappropriate. If we allow this type of behavior, it allows the unit to enter that slippery slope and it's tough to climb out of."

The AF invests a considerable amount of time and money into educating Airmen about sexual assault and how to prevent it, yet more than 600 reports of sexual assault were filed in fiscal year 2011. Weatherington added that the fight to turn those statistics around is an ongoing battle.

"One sexual assault is too many," Weatherington said. "All Airmen must have the courage to make a difference for their coworkers, friends, and all those affected by this terrible crime. We have a long way to go in our Air Force to meet this challenge, but your Air Force leaders are committed to do whatever it takes to eliminate sexual assault in our ranks."

As devastating as sexual assault is, it can be stopped. Dominguez encourages all Airmen - whether victims or bystanders - to do their part to put an end to this blatant violation of the AF core values.

"It takes a lot of courage to come forward and report a sexual assault," Dominguez emphasized. "The wingman concept certainly applies in situations like these. The Air Force is an organization that is expected to take care of its own. If you don't stand up, who will?"

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