Being good wingmen key to bystander intervention

  • Published
  • By Col. Jeff Mayo
  • 66th Air Base Wing vice commander
So just what is "bystander intervention?" Well it just might be the key to getting sexual assault out of our Air Force. 

In Fiscal Year 2008, the Air Force had 649 sexual assaults that were reported which represent an almost eight percent increase from Fiscal Year 2007 reports. While those numbers are tragic, it's even more shocking to think about how many other cases may go unreported. I think we can all easily understand the tremendous impact sexual assault has on the victims as well as the negative impact on unit cohesion and readiness. I'm equally certain that most Airmen could discuss why sexual assault is a crime and at least some of the risk factors associated with sexual assault. 

However, understanding the tragedy of sexual assault isn't good enough. All Airmen have to understand and internalize that it is our duty to actively intervene to prevent sexual assault in our Air Force. That's where "bystander intervention" can help. 

Active bystander intervention is when an Airman takes the initiative to actively get a fellow Airman out of a situation where the risk of unwanted sexual contact is high. It means recognizing when a fellow Airman is making a bad decision that could lead them to be a victim or a perpetrator of sexual assault. In many cases of sexual assault, excessive alcohol use is involved so it also means recognizing when an Airman's judgment is too impaired to make a decision about sex. The bottomline is that being an active bystander is being a good Wingman. 

Once you understand that preventing sexual assault is your responsibility and that you have to intervene, the next step is tough. How do I intervene? 

Getting involved in two other people's personal lives is very uncomfortable particularly if their relationship may have a sexual component. Just like we figure out ways to keep someone that's had too much to drink from getting in a car, we have to find a way to get someone out of a situation that could result in a sexual assault. 

Not too long ago many of us would have been uncomfortable taking a person's keys, offering to give them a ride, or calling a taxi in order to keep them from drinking and driving. Now we see it as our responsibility. Figuring out intervention strategies for potential sexual assault situations will be tougher, but the Air Force will soon offer some training to help Airmen at all levels develop intervention strategies and techniques. 

The first step in getting sexual assault out of our Air Force is understanding that prevention is the responsibility, the duty, of every Airman. Take that step now and start becoming a wingman that doesn't just stand by and watch a dangerous situation develop....intervene and engage.