The Department of the Air Force released findings from a force-wide Interpersonal Violence Task Force Nov. 9, which studied the depth and scope of how Airmen and Guardians are affected by interpersonal violence. The results are available for download at www.af.mil//Portals/1/documents/2021SAF/11_Nov/Interpersonal_Violence_Task_Force_Final_Report.pdf.
After the Secretary of the Air Force established the Interpersonal Violence Task Force in 2020, the team examined a broad range of 81 behaviors along what is known as the “Continuum of Harm” to determine if the DAF is keeping Airmen and Guardians safe, and providing needed support after they experience any kind of interpersonal violence.
Over a six-week period in fall 2020, the Task Force used a three-pronged approach to collect information from active duty, Guard, Reserve, and civilian Department of the Air Force members by using a survey, administrative data, and qualitative data. Approximately 68,000 DAF members responded to the survey, which is about 10 percent of the total force. Additionally, 85 personnel participated in focus groups to provide direct feedback.
“Thank you to the brave Airmen and Guardians who entrusted their stories to us. Because of you, we gained vital insight into how we can better protect and support our people, no matter where their experience falls along the spectrum of violence,” said Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones.
Of the subset of about 10 percent of Airmen, Guardians, and the Department of the Air Force civilians who responded to the survey, 54 percent indicated they had experienced behaviors consistent with at least one type of interpersonal violence in the past two years. Specifically, 66 percent of the women and 48 percent of the men who responded to the survey reported experiencing some form of interpersonal violence.
Additionally, most survey respondents who identified experiencing these behaviors did not inform someone in their chain of command, or a civilian or military law enforcement officer. Reporting of incidents to an authority, either by the victim or others, ranged from a low of 17 percent for intimate partner violence to a high of 40 percent for hazing.
Survey items also addressed whether respondents experienced any of 81 behaviors across what is commonly known as the “Continuum of Harm” in the two years preceding the survey. On the left side of the continuum, survey questions included behaviors such as “belittled and humiliated me” and “told lewd sexual innuendos or jokes or shared sexual stories.” On the right side, survey questions included behaviors such as “intruded on my privacy by pestering, spying or stalking” and “pushed, shoved, or slammed me against something.”
According to the report, analysis showed that many victims do not report the behaviors, or when they do, they do not believe anything will be done. The report also highlights most victims were not satisfied with support service agencies. On the other hand, command teams generally indicated that they believed they had the resources, training, and authority to address interpersonal violence offenses in their chain of command.
“We clearly have work to do to ensure that interpersonal violence is prevented,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. “When it does occur, we need to provide needed support to victims and deal effectively with perpetrators of violence – of any type.”
The Task Force identified a need to organize helping agencies to operate holistically, particularly at the base level, to eliminate confusion and ensure coherent and coordinated support for victims. In response to those findings, Jones announced in September that the DAF was taking steps to create one office of primary responsibility within the department to address domestic violence, harassment, and stalking.
“We are implementing real solutions right now because we know behind all the metrics are actual survivors,” said Jones. “We’re creating a network of service providers for interpersonal violence that eliminates harmful bureaucracy and shields survivors from needlessly sharing their trauma several times before getting the care they need—we need to support our Airmen and Guardians better.”
The Task Force made three major recommendations based on its findings.
- Complete a cross-functional database review to improve data awareness and sharing
- Pursue a one-stop policy for victims of interpersonal violence
- Establish a cross-functional team to examine barriers to reporting
Five other themes emerged during focus groups, which provided recommendations for combatting barriers to reporting.
- Create a culture of accountability
- Develop approachable leadership
- Expand restricted reporting and provide third-party reporting
- Increase education on policies and available resources
- Provide additional training on interpersonal violence
After reviewing the report, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. thanked Airmen and Guardians for sharing their experiences and acknowledged the need for increased trust.
“One of our top priorities is to create a safe environment free from interpersonal violence. It was essential to hear from our Airmen, Guardians and family members so we can ensure we understand how they are being cared for after experiencing interpersonal violence,” said Brown. “Going forward, we need to build trust so reports can occur and all get the kind of help they need.”
The Chief of Space Operations echoed the need to improve support for Airmen and Guardians.
“We must ensure our Guardians and Airmen have the resources and leadership necessary to make them feel safe and supported when they report all types of interpersonal violence,” said General John “Jay” Raymond, Chief of Space Operations. “Early identification and support are key to mission and family readiness.”
In response to the findings in the report, the DAF Special Victims’ Counsel program instituted a pilot program to expand legal services and representation available to Airmen and Guardians who have experienced interpersonal violence. Additionally, the DAF is taking steps to institutionalize a “warm hand-off,” or “No Wrong Door” policy, to address sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment and stalking. This concept ensures anyone seeking help receives a warm hand-off between helping agencies as the right support and guidance within our organization is determined. Supportive service agencies will also ensure victims and their families have support from initial reporting through resolution and post-care.
The Secretary of Defense’s Independent Review Commission (IRC) on Sexual Assault in the Military, which stood up after the DAF Interpersonal Violence Task Force, incorporated many of the findings and recommendations of the Task Force into its final report. The IRC report was released Sept. 22 and is available here.