Want to Prevent Sexual Assault? “Pay Attention to Your Surroundings!” Says Victim-Blaming Air Force Poster

by Solange Castellar

Trigger Warning: This post discusses sexual violence, victim-blaming.

Jennifer Stevens, a 10-year armed forces and battalion veteran, was absolutely outraged by this poster in the women’s restroom of the Wright-Patterson Ohio Air Force base. The poster, titled “Avoid Being a Victim,” is a guideline for women to avoid/prevent sexual assault. Understandably, it SCREAMS victim-blaming. 

The poster instructs soldiers to avoid sexual assault by paying attention to their surroundings, socializing with people who share their values and being prepared to get home.

No correlating poster instructs soldiers to prevent sexual assault by, y’know, not assaulting.

While the intentions of the poster may be admirable, the consequences of its wording can cause victims of abuse to feel at fault for their abuse. “If only I had socialized with people who shared my values!” laments the victim of this advice. This makes it, of course, easier, for victims of sexual assault to internalize their suffering and makes it less likely that victims of abuse will come forward to confront their abuser – after all, it’s their fault that they let someone they didn’t know buy them a drink.

The poster, featuring the BlackBerry of awareness (?)

In an interview with Business Insider, Stevens said that these ideas reflect a key sign of the military’s sexual assault strategy, which puts responsibility for the assault on those who are sexually assaulted – absolving the assaulter or even the governing body from culpability. Stevens also goes on to say that victim-blaming is one of the military’s top problems in dealing with sexual assault, since the victims are the ones who disobeyed the clear instructions above. Just last year, there were an estimated 26,000 cases of sexual assault in the military.

This. Is. Utterly. Horrific.

Despite the awfulness that is this poster and others like them, Stevens decided to take matters into her own hands. She wrote a letter that expressed how Wright-Patterson can effectively (read: actually) help victims of sexual assault and pasted it over the original poster. Hello, badass! In her letter, Stevens asserted that this memo about preventing sexual assault alienates the victim and forces the blame onto the victim – clearly not a healthy way to deal with sexual assault! Stevens suggested that instead, the Air Force can help victims of sexual assault in the following ways: by providing a civilian hospital for immediate treatment, having a counselor on sight to help victims cope with the assault and resulting trauma, etc. Stevens even provided websites and other resources for victims to talk about their assault. Stevens posted the memos in male bathrooms as well as female to reinforce the sad fact that sexual assault can happen to ANY gender, and “advice” for preventing sexual assault should not be targeted just at women. This progressive list shows that women who pay attention to their surroundings have the power to change the messed up system that would rather blame them for being assaulted than do anything to help them. The courage to fight back proves that Stevens is truly an HBIC. She won’t let Wright-Patterson get away with its backwards, victim-blamey attitude.

Stevens’ response posted over original sign (via twitter)

When Business Insider asked Wright-Patterson for a statement, the base simply said that they “implemented robust training for all Airmen,” so that the Airmen won’t turn into “potential offenders,” and that this training includes “awareness” of sexual abuse. Hate to break it to ya, but nothing screams “laziness” quite like “promoting awareness.” Kudos to Stevens  for making a change in her environment through awareness and activism!

Sources: Think ProgressBusiness Insider, and Think Progress

Images: Business Insider, and Twitter 

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