Sexual Assault awareness doesn’t end in April

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. -- As you know, April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We held a number of events, including a SAPR Stand-Down Day on the 25th. While the month is over, our focus on this issue is not. It's unfortunate we have to place so much attention on such a despicable crime, but sadly sexual assault is a real problem in our military. It's a cancer forced upon us almost entirely by a few predators hiding in plain sight. And it's incredibly destructive.

As Airmen, we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Our uniform stands for something. It represents a commitment to a sacred cause: a commitment to our nation, our families and one another. Every day we put on the uniform we must earn the right to wear it. Our mission success depends on a culture of dignity, respect and trust. Sexual assault is completely counter to our core values - it shatters trust, weakens our force and threatens our mission. We must work together to eradicate it.

To combat sexual assault, it's important that we understand how offenders operate and what each of us can do to stop them.

Offenders count on us doubting the numbers, the victims' accounts, and their own intent. They rely on victims not reporting. They depend on us missing the signs or ignoring the facts so they can continue to operate with impunity.

It is up to us to prove offenders wrong. We must develop an environment where victims know they will not be blamed for crimes committed against them. Where they know they will be supported by their peers and their leadership. Where they know they can come forward and report an assault and the offender can be held accountable. In a court martial case last year, the defendant was found guilty of rape under Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice - he was sentenced to eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.

As always, we must remember that not everyone who is accused is guilty. We have a legal court system to help determine guilt or innocence. All defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. Our justice system is the foundation of the rights and freedoms we enjoy.

Sexual assault is a vile crime against the victim and against society. I challenge each of you to help prevent it by aggressively defending and enforcing our culture of dignity and respect. Your active engagement is critical. If there are any among us who refuse to live by the core values, or refuse to treat others with dignity and respect, those individuals should remove themselves from our Air Force. We are warriors and we have a no fail mission to defend our nation and our precious freedom. We must demand the highest standards to ensure we remain the greatest Air Force in the world.