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Bystanders key to preventing sexual assault

Charlene Bradley answers questions from the House Armed Services Committee Military Personnel Subcommittee March 6 in Washington, D.C. Ms. Bradley serves as the Secretary of the Air Force's policy expert on preventing sexual assault. She and other sister service representatives answered questions from the subcommittee about efforts to combat sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

Charlene Bradley answers questions from the House Armed Services Committee Military Personnel Subcommittee March 6 in Washington, D.C. Ms. Bradley serves as the Secretary of the Air Force's policy expert on preventing sexual assault. She and other sister service representatives answered questions from the subcommittee about efforts to combat sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski)

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- When it comes to preventing sexual assault, Airmen have a responsibility to look out for their own, the Secretary of the Air Force's policy expert on preventing sexual assault told members of Congress here March 6.

Charlene Bradley and other sister service representatives testified before the House Armed Services Committee Military Personnel Subcommittee.

"Our current prevention initiative focuses on development of a bystander intervention training program," Ms. Bradley said. "Bystander intervention is a strategy that motivates people who may see, hear or otherwise recognize signs of an inappropriate or unsafe situation, to act in a positive, pro-social way.

"The most effective prevention efforts must be focused on Airmen who, by their participation in peer groups and activities, might either actively or passively provide support or camouflage for the sexual predators in their midst," she added.

When people are passive about a situation that they see could lead to an assault, they're contributing to the problem, Ms. Bradley said. And in addition to the harm to the individual Airman, sexual assault also affects the mission.

"Sexual assault is a crime, period." Ms. Bradley said. "Assaults go against the core values of the Air Force and degrade mission effectiveness. Airmen have to be able to trust their comrades in arms. If they can't trust the people they work with, how can they be expected to be successful?"

Because the issue so directly affects mission readiness, Air Force commanders have been trained on how to help victims as well as cultivate a culture where sexual assault isn't tolerated at any level.

"Our commanders are getting the training they need and it's really helping," Ms. Bradley told the subcommittee. "Commanders are held responsible and they take this very seriously."

Sexual assault prevention is a never ending commitment. It requires consistent, continuing education and training, Ms. Bradley said.

"To continue with our prevention efforts, we are developing a long-term plan that will provide the continuing emphasis and attention to our ultimate goal: to create an environment and culture where sexual assault does not occur," she said.