Prevent Sexual Assault: Ask! Act! Intervene!

  • Published
  • By Ann Beem
  • Whiteman Air Force Base Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
The Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office and the military services adopted a sexual assault awareness campaign to advance our continued efforts in prevention sexual assault in the military.

This year's theme, "Prevent Sexual Assault: Ask! Act! Intervene!" focuses on the ability of every servicemember to prevent sexual assault by taking an active role in looking out for the welfare of friends and co-workers.

Research shows that most people have difficulty identifying situations that require intervention. Even if someone knows there is a problem, studies show that people are likely not to take action if others around them do not. 

Although ,Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, victim advocates and commanders are asked to educate and to encourage our servicemembers to ask, act and intervene in situations where people may be in jeopardy, the responsibility falls upon everyone in the Whiteman community to not just be a bystander. A bystander is one who sees something happening and chooses not to get involved. This is especially important when alcohol is involved. Taking a stance against potential perpetrators of sexual assault can make a difference. Creating an environment of mutual respect and assistance is a key component to prevention of this crime. 

How many times have you been at a party or with a small group of friends and witnessed something that made you feel uneasy? Maybe it was someone pushing another person to leave with them, or someone encouraging another to drink more after they are already impaired. Or, maybe you saw a friend slap his or her date. What did you do? 

You might be thinking, "That's none of my business." Or, you may think saying something would mean "sticking your nose in someone else's business." 

If you stay silent you may be part of the problem. 

Sexual assault rarely happens in a room full of people, and survivors often stay silent in an abusive relationship. But warning signs or red flags that a situation is about to become violent or abusive are often noticed by others. Stepping in to find out what's going on could prevent that someone from further danger and let him/her know you're available to help. 

I don't want to be a bystander so what should I look for?
Be on the look-out for potentially dangerous situations. - Learn how to recognize indications of potentially dangerous situations. Here are some examples of "red flag" behaviors related to sexual assault: Inappropriate touching, suggestive remarks, testing boundaries, disregarding set boundaries, inappropriate intimacy, attempts to isolate someone, pressuring someone to drink, violent behaviors, and targeting someone who is visibly impaired. 

Think ... If I were in this situation, would I want someone to help me?  If a situation makes us uncomfortable, we may try to dismiss it as not being a problem. You may tell yourself that the other person will be fine, that he or she is not as intoxicated as you think, or that the person is able to defend him/herself. This is not a solution! The person may need your help more than you think! 

When in doubt, trust your gut. Instincts are there for a reason. When a situation makes us feel uncomfortable, it is a generally a good indicator that something is not right. It is better to be wrong about the situation than do nothing. 

So what can you do?
1. Step in and separate the two people. Let them know your concerns and reasons for intervening. Be a friend and let them know you are acting in their best interest. Make sure each person makes it home safely.

2. Use a distraction to redirect the focus somewhere else by saying something like, hey, I need to talk to you, or Hey this party is lame. Let's go somewhere else.

3. Encourage postponing sexual relationships until both people are able to provide clear consent. Emphasize that deciding to be intimate when one or both parties is intoxicated is just not a good idea. 

4. Recruit the help of friends of both people to step-in as a group. 

5. To be clear: This isn't about making decisions for people or it doesn't mean that you have to get in a fight. It could be as simple as interrupting the situation. Asking "where's the bathroom" could provide an opportunity for someone who is feeling cornered to slip away, or just checking in with the person you're concerned about or asking them directly if they are ok. It could mean telling a friend that you don't like the way he or she is acting, or it could mean calling the police. 

The point is, if you see or know of a violent or abusive situation do something! Break the silence! It could change the course of someone's life forever. 

Remember the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office has a 24/7 confidential hotline to answer all your questions related to sexual assault. The hotline number is (660) 687-7272.