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Unnamed Conspirators big part in sex assault
DOD consultant addresses cultural assumptions, attitudes
Along with a victim and an offender, a criminal sexual assault case involves a third party — the cultural attitudes, assumptions and myths that shape its outcome. Acknowledging this “unnamed conspirator” was the subject of a dynamic presentation March 10 in Kenney Hall at the Air Force Institute of Technology by Anne Munch, an adviser to the Department of Defense on sexual and domestic violence prevention strategy.
Munch’s presentation, “Sexual Assault: Naming the Unnamed Conspirator,” was open to the base community and attended by several hundred people, including first sergeants, commanders, chiefs, supervisors and key spouses as well as victim advocates from the base’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Office. Munch is an attorney with 27 years of experience as a career prosecutor and advocate for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. As a subject matter expert for the Air Force, Army and Navy, she has worked extensively on the development of SAPR programs for the military. Munch explored how influential the unnamed conspirator is and how it can outweigh the evidence in sexual assault and rape cases. She shared stories of real-life sexual assault cases, photos, an audiotape of an actual 911 call reporting a rape and statistics that challenge what Americans think about sex, gender, power and responsibility. “Revenge porn” on social media, the 2003 Kobe Bryant sexual assault case and the recent sexually explicit tweets about baseball player Curt Schilling’s daughter also were examined.
An analysis of college students’ perceptions she shared demonstrated that one in four college women had been the victim of a rape or attempted rape but did not perceive it that way. She explained that many people perceive a “real rapist” to be someone who “jumps out of the bushes and grabs you.” In reality, 57 percent of rapes occur during dates. Another sobering statistic is that 42 percent of the college woman surveyed never told anyone about the assault and only 5 percent reported the crime to the police.
“Under-reporting is the problem, and you’re really changing the climate in the Air Force,” Munch said.
“The Air Force has done culture-changing work in this area.”
She pointed to a 2010 Prevalence/Incidence Survey of Sexual Assault in the Air Force that showed women reported a lifetime prevalence of sexual assault of 29.7 percent and men, 4.3 percent. Other results showed that the newest and youngest military members experience a greater proportion of sexual crimes.
Munch discussed cultural views of how women dress and behave and how alcohol consumption can affect people’s perceptions of sex-related crimes. She also challenged men to be offended that they may be perceived to have a lack of control over their bodies and arousal behavior.
“Stopping is a choice,” she said.
She also explored “blaming the victim” and how people’s disbeliefs about what other people are capable of perpetuate a permissive climate.
“As long as we focus on (blaming the victim), we are not focused on the perpetrator’s behavior,” she said.
She implored audience members to examine their thinking, values, judgments and societal attitudes about sex crimes, saying “the unnamed conspirator is you and me.”
Such self-examination is crucial to any change, Munch said following the presentation.
For senior leaders in particular, a second step is to ensure the climate in which one operates or works is absent of these kinds of dynamics as well as more subtle ones that advertently or inadvertently discourage victims from coming forward because of the potential for judgment or retaliation.
“It starts with a personal look, and then a look around to evaluate the climate. Listen for people’s comments. Encourage them into having a different kind of conversation,” she advised.
Beginning such discussions is important.
“I never thought of it that way” is a great outcome from discussing the “unnamed conspirator,” she said.
Junior members, who often have had greater exposure to the cultural influences of music, media and rampant victim blaming, Munch said, need to challenge their thinking, ignore crude jokes and degrading terms and be taught values that build a climate of dignity and respect for everyone.
Complementing this are the concepts taught in bystander intervention training (BIT), which Munch helped develop.
BIT is the Air Force’s direct strategy to provide Airmen with knowledge to recognize potentially harmful situations and take action to mitigate possible harm to their fellow wingman.
Anne Munch, an advisor to the Department of Defense on sexual and domestic violence prevention strategy, presented “Sexual Assault: Naming the Unnamed Conspirator” March 10 in Kenney Hall at the Air Force Institute of Technology. During her address that was open to the base community, she described how cultural attitudes, assumptions and myths shape the outcomes of criminal sexual assault cases. (Skywrighter photo by Amy Rollins)
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