USAF Wants Airmen’s Stories to Shape Harassment, Assault Prevention

The Department of the Air Force this month will survey Airmen about their experiences with interpersonal violence, seeking feedback that could shape future policies to keep service members safe.

Starting the week of Sept. 7, the department plans to survey civilian and uniformed Air Force and Space Force members about sexual assault and abuse, domestic abuse, bullying, and stalking.

“Survey data and the data gathered from reviewing past cases involving interpersonal violence will be used to identify any themes or areas for improvement,” the department said in a Sept. 3 release.

The Department of the Air Force’s interpersonal violence task force is collecting anecdotes and other information to form an action plan with recommendations for senior leaders. That task force stood up in July to look at the process, program, and leadership reforms that are needed to keep Airmen safe—particularly young ones.

Anyone who fills out the anonymous survey can also join small focus groups to discuss the issues further. Command leadership is encouraged to offer their perspectives as well. Harassment and assault claims often involve abuses of power in a chain of command, as well as complaints that leaders do not take claims seriously or handle them properly.

The Air Force’s outreach comes after the death of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, whose family said she was sexually harassed before disappearing from Fort Hood, Texas, in April. Guillén’s killing, which sparked outrage over how the military handles harassment and assault in its ranks, has prompted many women to come forward with their own stories of violence and fear.

“We know these types of violence exist in our communities and we are working hard to prevent them from happening,” Brig. Gen. April D. Vogel, the director for National Guard Bureau manpower, personnel, recruiting, and services, who leads the task force, said in a July 31 release. “Recognizing prevention is not yet foolproof, we must ensure our Airmen and space professionals feel protected and have the resources and leadership necessary to keep them safe.”

Air Force and Space Force headquarters staffers are combing through past cases of violence to find room for improvement.

“If you are being threatened, harassed, stalked, or bullied, please come forward and report it. As your leaders, we condemn any type of interpersonal violence in our force, and we will not tolerate it,” senior Department of the Air Force leaders said in a memo this summer. “If you feel uncomfortable reaching out to your commander or first sergeant, please reach out to another leader, mentor, or person you trust. … You do not have to do this alone.”