Ciera Bridges’ career was all but over. She had reported through her chain of command that three enlisted airmen senior to her had sexually harassed her. One allegedly assaulted her. And as her father, a retired senior master sergeant, had warned, her supervisors began to reprimand her for seemingly small infractions that led a commander to recommend her discharge.
But in a surprising turn, the Air Force dropped the other-than-honorable discharge proceedings against Bridges on Oct. 9, two days after her story was published in Air Force Times. Officials at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where Bridges is stationed, would not comment, citing privacy protections.
Canceling the discharge proceedings is a victory for victims of sexual assault who fear reporting will yield only backlash from supervisors, while the accused continue on with their careers. In Bridges’ case, two of the three airmen she accused remain in the Air Force, and the third retired, while she was reprimanded for minor offenses.
The Air Force has taken steps to protect victims. Airmen receive more training to identify and prevent sexual assault and harassment, victims are provided their own counsel and top leaders are asking airmen for ideas to solve this problem.
But change takes time. And cases like Bridges’ show the Air Force — and military as a whole — has a long way to go to end a culture of retaliation for coming forward. Retaliation can be insidious and difficult to prove. But it’s real — Air Force leadership must demand that every complaint of it be takenseriously and fully investigated.