INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey --
Can I kiss you?
Those words echoed the room and all that came back was silence.
This was the first question posed to the floor during a Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month event hosted here, which focused on educating Airmen on how to build positive relationships while encouraging constructive interactions among all people.
Most would classify it as a briefing, yet it had no slides and no statistics.
It did have two chairs, a guest speaker and a room full of Airmen with looks of uncertainty about whether it was alright to not raise their hands.
The four words seemed simple enough but why had most of us never heard them?
Instantly, I knew this wasn’t just another briefing but a chance to change our thought processes about how to correctly engage in any kind of sexual act because knowing how to ask for consent is at the core of combating sexual assaults.
“Asking will never ruin the moment unless you never had a moment in the first place,” said Mike Domitrz, Date Safe Project president. “It’s more direct and it shows more confidence. The current system is they guess and they wait forever to even guess so there is all of this delay, confusion and awkwardness. Whereas if you ask, it saves time…there’s no way to lose when you ask because if they say no you’re going to be glad you didn’t go for it.”
From to dating scenarios to couples who have been married for more than 25 years, the primary theme was the same: treat everyone with respect and ask before you act.
“Nobody really knows how to ask for consent,” said 1st Lt. Nicole Flanagan, 39th Air Base Wing sexual assault response coordinator. “We say to ask for consent but no one teaches you how and this month I want to give people the skills so they can have healthy relationships. If we grow those skills and bystander intervention strategies on how to have positive interactions with everyone in our lives then sexual assault is not going to be as much of a problem as it is now.”
The event challenged everyone to be an advocate for each other and when you see a situation that doesn’t seem right don’t be afraid to step in.
Not only is it important to step in but it’s equally important to know what to say and understand most people have the misconception of saying phrases such as, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Instead you want to say if anyone ever has or does harm you, I’m going to be here for you always and that focuses on the person,” said Domitrz. “It creates a safe space for someone to come forward.”
In order to adequately be there for one another, we all must know the different reporting options include restricted and unrestricted reports and volunteer victim advocates, chaplain corps, and healthcare personnel are helping agencies to support people who have been sexually assaulted.
Throughout the month, the SARC and VAs hosted 12 events targeted at educating Airmen about sexual assault.
“I partnered with every single helping agency we have here in order to focus on education,” said Flanagan. “I want people to walk away with positive skills and understand how to have healthy relationships. I don’t like negative reinforcement. I think any conscious person if you ask them if raping someone is wrong that they’re going to say yes.”
Most Airmen have never and will never sexually assault another person in their lifetime but it’s up to us to get this number down to zero by always asking for consent, intervening when necessary and supporting our wingmen.
Sexual assaults aren’t just a statistic we quote in April. It is a crime that forever changes victims’ lives, their families and our Air Force family.
Together we can stop sexual assaults; the steps toward that goal could be as simple as learning how to ask “Can I kiss you?”
(Editor’s Note: The mention of the organization The Date Safe Project does not constitute Air Force support or affiliation.)