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Offutt supports Sexual Assault Awareness Month, focuses on intervention

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The 2011 national SAAM observance focuses on a bystander approach to sexual violence prevention. A bystander, or witness, is anyone who sees a situation but may or may not know what to do, may think others will act or may be afraid to do something. Bystanders who take action when necessary can prevent sexual assault. U.S. Air Force graphic by Jeff Gates

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. - April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The 2011 national SAAM observance focuses on a bystander approach to sexual violence prevention. A bystander, or witness, is anyone who sees a situation but may or may not know what to do, may think others will act or may be afraid to do something. Bystanders who take action when necessary can prevent sexual assault. U.S. Air Force graphic by Jeff Gates

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- A woman is at a bar with her friends enjoying pleasant conversation and a few margaritas. She's having fun now and doesn't realize her night will soon be ruined by someone who will try to harass her.

One of her co-workers has been watching her every move from across the room. His name is Bill, and Bill has wanted to be with her for a long time.

He puts down his beer and approaches her, but she rejects his advances.

Frustrated, embarrassed and determined, he continues harassing her hoping she'll agree to go back to his place to just "hang out." At one point he begins caressing her arm playfully, but she smacks his hand away and asks to be left alone.

She is scared, uncomfortable and wants to escape. All she can think is, "how did I put myself in this situation?"

Finally, one of her friends steps in.

"Susie, let's get out of here," her friend says as they walk out to the parking lot, get in a silver sedan and drive away.

The Air Force is calling on all Airmen to step in and take appropriate action to prevent sexual assault, much like Susie's friend. Through Bystander Intervention Training, a 90-minute class that focuses on eliminating sexual violence, Offutt is training Airmen to take action to prevent sexual assault should the need arise.

The course encourages Airmen to use their leadership skills to end sexual violence or inappropriate behavior wherever they may see it.

According to Offutt's Sexual Assault Response and Coordinator's Office, approximately 3,000 Airmen have completed the BIT course here. The class stresses intervention, a major focus area of April's Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Paul J. Neussendorfer, an educational assistant with Detachment 10 of Air Combat Command's Training Support Squadron, experienced first-hand the impact inappropriate behavior can have on a unit.

In 1992, then Master Sgt. Neussendorfer was a flight chief in the 55th Fighter Squadron at a base in the United Kingdom.

He recalled an Airman bringing him a yellow sticky note written by the technical sergeant who was the swing shift supervisor. The note seemed to be propositioning the airman first class on the same shift to meet on more personal terms.

The sergeant was married and the young A1C, who the note was addressed to, refused the sergeant's advances for weeks.

After receiving the note, Mr. Neussendorfer said he realized he had to act.

"One of my first thoughts was, 'here's an airman who is uncomfortable in a situation with a supervisor and I can't allow that to continue,'" Mr. Neussendorfer said. "Once I found out about it, I (had) to get her off that shift; I (wasn't) going to leave her in that environment."

Mr. Neussendorfer reassigned the A1C to day shift and informed their chain of command of the situation. He then set up a meeting between himself, the technical sergeant, the first sergeant and commander for the following morning.

In the meeting, Mr. Neussendorfer said the commander explained to the technical sergeant that his behavior was unprofessional and inappropriate. The commander also made sure the sergeant understood that if the behavior continued, disciplinary action would be swift, Mr. Neussendorfer said.

Through his actions, Mr. Neussendorfer protected one of his Airmen from being in a situation that could lead to a sexual assault. However, the retired senior master sergeant said he was just doing his job and he expects others to do the same.

"I really hope that if people are experiencing situations like that they will get help and those that intervene will take appropriate action," Mr. Neussendorfer said.

According to the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military for fiscal year 2010, more than 3,000 sexual assaults involving servicemembers were reported.

The report also found that approximately 19 percent of female Airmen and two percent of male Airmen reported being a victim of sexual assault at some point after joining the Air Force.

Preventing sexual assault is everyone's duty, said Sharon E. Ingram, a program assistant with Offutt's SARC office.

"One assault can reverberate throughout a unit and beyond, degrading readiness by harming the life of the victim and the military's ability to work effectively as a team," she said.

Nationally Sexual Assault Awareness Month is committed to raising awareness and promoting the prevention of sexual violence through the use of special events and public education, she added.

In support of SAAM, Offutt will host the Annual First Sergeant Golf Opener on April 22 at noon at Willow lakes Golf Course.

During the tournament, participants will learn about the impact sexual assault can have as facts about the crime will be placed at each hole.

Offutt will also offer a self defense class on April 30 at the Bldg. D tennis courts at 9 a.m. The free class is open to women interested in learning self defense techniques.

"The purpose of the class is to create a comfortable environment to bolster confidence and skill sets," said Master Sgt. Aaron K. Weed, NCO in charge of training for the 55th Security Forces Squadron.

The curriculum will cover important self defense topics like situational awareness, wrist locks, escapes, ground defense and striking, Sergeant Weed said.

Sergeant Weed is a certified Krav Maga instructor and he's trained more than 900 Airmen in the art of self defense. He highly encourages women take advantage of this defense class.

"If attacked in a sexual assault type of situation, quick reaction can be the decisive difference in defense and escape," Sergeant Weed said. "This free seminar is (important) because our goal is to raise awareness and give people a sense of empowerment so they recognize they don't have to be a victim."

To register for the self defense class, visit the SARC office's community of practice website by clicking here.

For more information about Offutt's SAAM events, call the SARC office at 232-9999.