Combating sexual assault

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ceaira Tinsley
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Several months have passed since April and for some, the excitement surrounding sexual assault awareness and prevention month has fizzled but one lieutenant’s passion for combating this key issue is still ablaze.

For 1st Lt. Nicole Flanagan, 39th Air Base Wing sexual assault response coordinator, the math is simple--one sexual assault is one too many and education is the key to achieving her goal of zero.

“I’m a one-man show and I can’t combat sexual assault alone,” said Flanagan. “Everyone on this base and Air Force-wide has to make the decision to work together to combat this issue. Every day, I’m working to instill the mindset that even one sexual assault is too many. I always tell people that all of us are brothers and sisters and if something bad happens to one of us we’re all impacted because sexual assault impacts everything.

“It’s a loss of control which results in a loss of trust. If you don’t have trust you don’t have anything,” said Flanagan. “Nothing happens unless the trust is built first and that’s why educating everyone from the top down is important.”

To mitigate these obstacles, Flanagan created a victimology course which focuses educating Airmen on the brain’s reaction to trauma, false reporting statistics, maximum punishments for sexual assault offenses and why the myths are wrong.

Once Flanagan teaches the facts about sexual assault, she supplements what the class has learned by presenting a realistic scenario around a simulated staff sergeant in their unit.

“Education is everything,” said Flanagan. “For 15 minutes, the class listens to this staff sergeant read her victim impact statement. This makes the scenario relatable because most units are a tight-knit community. The point I’m trying to convey really hits home when it’s one of your own. Ultimately, what I’m trying to do is make it personal because we should value every Airmen even, if we don’t know them.”

In addition to the overwhelming success Flanagan has seen from the course, she also teams up monthly with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, who are responsible for investigating allegations of sexual assault, to host an education seminar known as Coffee with Cops.

The seminar presents the facts about sexual assault in an open forum, explains the investigation process and allows Airmen to ask questions.

“Events like this are a necessity because we have to own the fact that we have a problem and work together to find solutions,” said Flanagan. “These open forums provide an opportunity for Airmen to ask those hard questions and address topics like victim-blaming. Victim-blaming can be toxic to a wing, but we’re working hard to change the narrative by providing the facts. Only two percent of sexual assault cases Air Force-wide were proven false, which means we must take every allegation seriously.”

With several programs in place to teach Airmen about sexual assault, both Flanagan and AFOSI also encourage every Airman to always be a good wingman and never be afraid to speak up.

“Airmen have to intervene,” said Special Agent Jeremie Wright, AFOSI Detachment 522. “Airmen are exposed to a variety of social and private situations that can sometimes be prevented by distracting potential offenders and removing potential victims from situations that do not seem right. In many AFOSI investigations, alcohol is a contributing factor of sexual assaults. If you see someone who you suspect of being intoxicated, call the Midnight Titans so they can be escorted to their room. Do not let an intoxicated person leave with someone they do not know.”