Sexual Assault in the Military: A local base responds

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Senator Martha McSally of Arizona was the first woman to fly in combat and on Wednesday at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee, she revealed she was sexually assaulted while in the military. "And in one case, I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer," said Senator McSally.

Airmen standing as pallbearers wait for the Team Eglin Honor Guard graduation ceremony to begin March 1 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Approximately 18 new Airmen graduated from the 120-plus-hour course. The graduation performance includes flag detail, rifle volley, pall bearers and bugler for friends, family and unit commanders. The graduating flight size increased because Eglin and Hurlburt Field Honor Guard teams are supporting part of Tyndall AFB’s funeral area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Christine McGill is the sexual assault response coordinator at Tyndall Air Force Base. "Her not reporting when it happened is absolutely normal. It's very seldom or rare that somebody will report immediately after a sexual assault occurs," said McGill.

According to the DoD's 2017 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military, there was a 9.7 percent increase in reports of sexual assault involving service members.

"The nine percent increase that we had is fantastic, actually. We want people to report because we want to make sure that they're ok. We want the prevalence number to be lower, which it is, but that reporting number for people to actually report, we want that high," said McGill.

While sexual assault in the military has been an issue for decades, McGill says there's been a cultural shift since Senator McSally served in the Air Force.

"It wasn't uncommon for words, language to be used openly in an office. Today you don't see that," said McGill.

So when a victim does come forward, what is the process like?

"So the military has two reporting options, essentially, for individuals: restricted and unrestricted reporting. So restricted reporting is just that a member comes in, they're able to talk to us in this office, make a report of a restricted report and leave it just as that," said McGill.

But in an unrestricted report, the victim is offered counseling and a lawyer. Their superiors may be notified along with law enforcement. From there an investigation begins.

McGill says while progress has been made, she doubts she'll be out of a job any time soon.

Senator McSally said, "We've come a long way to stop military sexual assault but we still have a long way to go."

In addition to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, McGill says the Air Force also has a Violence Prevention Integrator that's responsible for the prevention aspect and education on base.

Col. Jeff Hawkins, Vice Commander, 325th Fighter Wing of Tyndall Air Force Base issued the following statement:

“Sexual harassment is inconsistent with our Air Force Core Values and is not tolerated in any form. Tyndall Air Force Base’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program is dedicated to educating, advocating, and collaborating to respond to and stop sexual harassment and assault for all of our military and civilian employees. Tyndall Air Force Base’s Wing Commander maintains direct oversight of the SAPR program and a command climate predicated on mutual respect and trust. Tyndall’s SAPR program provides an immediate, 24/7, trained response capability focused on support for victims and executes a proactive and comprehensive sexual assault prevention program with the goal of eliminating sexual assault and harassment from the Air Force.”