The Air Force has a rape problem. As do colleges, religious institutions, prisons, major cities, public parks, public transit systems, rural areas, every sector of private employment-basically all of society, including my beloved Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, most infamously manifested in the story of Lloyd Irvin. This is not new information, or an original viewpoint, or meant to be critical of USAF leadership, but the AF (again, like the rest of American society) has fostered an atmosphere that does not always actively discourage and prevent rape- it is perceived by many, including mainstream media, to be swept under the rug. It happens continually, sometimes with people in positions of power abusing authority, sometimes substance is involved, but whatever- it’s always wrong, destructive, and evil. Click here for a summary of reported/investigated sexual assaults from 2010-2014 within the ranks of the AF. To put it more succinctly, a boy’s club with a cultural fixation on violence, dominance, and male on male competition, a weird Evangelical Christian dogmatic slant (which should, you know, not allow sexual assault to coexist), a carrerist, “go along to get along” trope, Fighter Pilot Culture, and a very active inequal power/pay/class distance hierarchy system (which is instantly recognizable by rank insignia and distinctive badges worn on the uniform), which began to be sexually desegregated in 1948, and just isn’t there yet.
Trailer for “The Invisible War”, a documentary about military sexual trauma survivors. These men and women live in our communities, as do their attackers. I am personal friends in real life with one of the survivors in this movie.
This post is not meant to prevent sexual assault in the moment, or a few hours before- I hope to nip it in the but months beforehand, by standing up and saying “this is not okay, and we can do better”. While I know the most about this organization, this is meant to be generally applicable to organizations or teams of any size- this is an organizational problem, and requires organizational solutions, and I am aware that talking about it is not enough. I need YOUR ideas about what WE can all do, together, to make rape a horrible footnote (although, like slavery and war, seems one of the threads that has been woven throughout the entirety of human history).
This post is male-centric, because that’s what I know, and most rapes are committed by men. Ladies, if you have ideas about what you can do to keep men from becoming conditioned to accept sexual assault as an option (because although intoxication and mental illness may play a factor, rape is ALWAYS a choice made by the attacker), I’m all ears. This is a start. This is an idea. This is me saying NO MORE. What can organizations do better? What can I do better? How do I facilitate teams toward discouraging the proliferation of rape culture?
5 things you can do to foster change and combat rape culture:
1) Be aware of sexism and male privilege-it exists. Our culture, like all others, has a problem with women. From gendered pronouns (“Airman”, “human”, “person”), one could deduce that male is the default setting for members of our species. Women have to, on a much more frequent basis than men, assert their competency and skills in order to be taken seriously as an adult. It is automatically assumed that a man can read a map or change a lightbulb- and that women cannot. Women ( at least those who are paying attention) feel unsafe all the time, and with good reason- women are much more likely to fall victim to violent and sexual crime than men, and often at the hands of men with whom they are acquainted. This is one of the many ways that being a woman ( woman-ness and womanhood) is stigmatized, exploited, and reinforced in everyday situations.
2) Don’t use language that reinforces stereotypes. “You did a pretty good job…for a girl” is NOWHERE NEAR being a compliment. While we’re at it, let’s stop having a double standard where adult males are enthusiastically called “MEN”, and females “girl”. It’s gross.
3) BE DECENT! Don’t leer at women in yoga pants. Don’t make jokes about rape. Don’t look for sexual double entendre, a la “that’s what she said”. No more locker-room talk. Keep it professional. Don’t look around to see if women are present before being lewd- just don’t do it! Otherwise, you are effectively saying to other men “this is how we men talk when women aren’t around”. Don’t use femaleness as an insult toward men. I work in aircraft maintenance, and it can get pretty blue- complainers are often told to “get the sand out of their vaginas”, implying that they are not male, but female (for having feelings or expressing concern about something) and that being female is not as good as being a man. This reinforces gender inequality. Don’t listen to music with misogynistic lyrics and themes at work. Chronicling your sexual adventures fosters attitudes permissive toward sexual exploitation and the objectification of women. Talking about how many “bitches” you “bagged” uses terminology from animal husbandry and hunting for human women. Inappropriate! Remember- dehumanizing peoples is one of the ways totalitarian regimes get people warmed up to committing atrocities. I did it. I dropped the Hitler bomb. /thread.
4) Speak up. Call people on their crap. Confront it. If someone says something inappropriate, stand up and say something about it, or you are broadcasting that you are okay with it. If it happens in public, it needs to be addressed in public, normally right on the spot so all who were involved are still around. It’s as easy as “Hey, come on, that’s not cool, you can’t say that”. It doesn’t have to be loud, but that might be appropriate in some situations.
5) Realize that just because you may be statistically less likely to be sexually assaulted, its still your problem, and your job to do something about it. Do not let women be maligned or disrespected for simply being women in your presence. As stupid as it seems, make certain everyone knows that you are against rape in any situation. Yes, a bit of a rehash of #4, but it bears repeating.