The Air Force is changing its sexual assault prevention training to focus on mitigating the risk factors that could lead airmen to commit the crime.
"We know what we need to do in the future is have positive training," said Maj. Gen. Gina Grosso. "Instead of saying, 'Don't do this and don't do this' — 'do this.'
Scientific evidence suggests that only a small number of sexual assaults are due to predatory behavior, Grosso said. Instead, those who commit the crime are susceptible to risk factors that can be prevented.
"We're going into healthy relationship training and healthy sexuality training that we are modeling off evidence-based programs that have worked, which are very few," she said.
"When you look at the risk factors in particular for perpetration, that is the best way to prevent this crime," Grosso said. "It's completely gender-neutral, and it is completely focused on the person that commits the crime, not the person that suffers from the crime."
Grosso led the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office from February 2014 until Sept. 2. Promoted to deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, she pins on her third star in early October.
Airmen, she said, have told her that the message they get from sexual assault prevention and response training is that women are weak and men are bad, but that is not what the Air Force is trying to convey.
Earlier this year, an active-duty using the pseudonym Kayce M. Hagen, wrote on the military blog John Q. Public that the training she received left the impression that female airmen are potential victims who need to be protected.
"Women don't need their own set of rules: physical training scores, buildings, rooms, raters, sponsors, deployment buddies," she wrote. "When I can only deploy with another woman 'buddy' you are telling me and the people around me that I can't take care of myself. When you forbid me from going into my male friends room to play X-Box on a deployment with the other people on my shift, you isolate me. When you isolate me, you make me a target. When you make me a target, you make me a victim. You don't make me equal, you make me hated."
Grosso rejects that assessment. "If you look at our training, in no way have we ever said that airmen who experience this trauma are weak," she said. "In fact, our training really emphasizes that the sole responsibility for this crime rests with the perpetrator and the victim is never at fault."
Surveys indicate that women in the Air Force are five times more likely to become victims of sexual assault than their male counterparts, reflecting a trend in the Defense Department and society as a whole, Grosso said. In most cases, the victims know their attackers.
Over the past three years, the Air Force has come "light years" in creating an environment for sexual assault victims to file unrestricted reports — which launch an investigation — and restricted reports, for which victims do not launch an investigation at the time but receive medical treatment and mental health care. Grosso said.
"I think we have a phenomenal team of SARCs [sexual assault response coordinators] and full-time sexual assault victim advocates, who, I think, have been really the lynchpin in all the progress that we've made," she said. "We've seen increased reporting because we have these very competent people that have earned the trust of these airmen that are in great distress."