Sexual assault prevention: The bystander's role

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Sexual assault is a crime that is not compatible with military service. A sexual assault has consequences for both the victim and the unit long after the incident. 

Every April, the Department of Defense and other organizations across the nation observe Sexual Assualt Awareness Month. This year's theme for SAAM is Prevent Sexual Assault: Ask! Act! Intervene! 

The theme was chosen as a reminder that your actions can make a difference in someone's life. In some cases, sexual assault can be prevented when servicemembers take responsibility for each other and get involved when a fellow servicemember is at risk. When you see someone who looks like they could use assistance, ask them if they need help. When they ask for help, be sure to step in and assist. If someone doesn't recognize trouble, do something to intervene and prevent the situation from becoming worse.

A bystander is someone in a crowd who sees a potentially dangerous situation and does nothing. A bystander does not protect the values of safety, trust and honor that are central to our community. Research shows that an individual is less likely to intervene if there are other bystanders present. Why? In emergency situations, many things prohibit bystanders from intervening: 

- If no one else is acting, it is hard to go against the crowd.
- People may feel that they are risking embarrassment.
(What if I'm wrong and they don't need help?)
- They may think there is someone else in the group more qualified to help.
- They may think that the situation does not call for help since no one else is
doing anything. 

Stopping sexual assault in the military involves every servicemember's involvement. Ask your friends if they need help, act when they do, and intervene when you see trouble.

Learn how to recognize indications of potentially dangerous situations. Here are some examples of "red flag" behaviors related to sexual assault: 

- Inappropriate touching or disregarding set boundaries
- Suggestive remarks
- Inappropriate intimacy
- Attempts to isolate someone
- Pressuring someone to drink
- Violent behaviors
- Targeting someone who is clearly impaired 

When a situation makes us uncomfortable, we may try and dismiss it as not being a problem. When in doubt, trust your gut! You have the responsibility to intervene. When you fail to act, you condone the bad behavior. You would not abandon a fellow warfighter on the battlefield, so do not abandon one in a dangerous situation. You have the skills to act! 

- Watch out for members of the military community
- Come up with a plan beforehand
- Talk to your friends about how they would want you to intervene in a dangerous situation
- Choose the intervention strategy that is best for the situation
- When possible, get support