The Air Force has taken major strides to combat sexual assault within the ranks in the form of two recent initiatives: (1) Airmen who are convicted of sexual assault will now be automatically discharged and (2) All actions taken on sexual assault cases must now be reviewed by senior commanders.
If fully implemented as planned, the Air Force's efforts will not only significantly reduce sexual assaults but also provide support for those reporting it – due, in large part, to new changes protecting victims from retaliation in the wake of their reporting an assault. It is for this very reason that the Air Force has established the innovative program known as the SVC – Special Victims Council. SVC members will now be available to attend trials with the victims and assist them in the event that they need expedited transfers or military protective orders which prevent victim-assailant communication, face-to-face contact, or potential intimidation. The Air Force is the first service to provide such services to its members.
Two Air Force leaders in the movement – Capt. Allison DeVito, chief of JAG's victim issues and policy branch, and Gen. Mark Welsh III, Chief of Staff – have publicly endorsed the recent changes. DeVito has promoted the efforts as an attempt "to foster mutual respect and dignity among fellow Airmen", while Welsh has taken a slightly harsher approach. "Sexual assault has no place in our Air Force," Welsh recently declared. "We live in a culture of respect. We cherish our core values of integrity, service and excellence. But in order to ensure all Airmen experience and benefit those values, we must eliminate sexual assault in our ranks."
The new requirements, which went into effect July 2 of this year, cover a wide range of sex-offenses, including one's engaging in unprofessional relationships. In order to facilitate the transition, Air Force bases around the country have already undergone basic training, devoting entire days to sexual assault prevention, support group formation, and bystander intervention coaching. These informative sessions put service members on notice of the policy changes while enforcing the Air Force's zero-tolerance approach and ensuring that not only assault victims feel comfortable and safe but also bystanders, who are told they play a critical role in breaking the chain of events.