An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

It’s an “us” problem

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Danielle Duso
  • Deputy Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
Given the strong focus on sexual assault prevention and response throughout the Department of Defense, anyone would be hard pressed to find an individual within the Air Force who hasn't been taught that sexual assault is a problem and that it will take a strong collective effort to remedy it.

Unfortunately, that knowledge, while important, is often just a starting point that requires a deeper and true understanding of the issue to be effective. We've been told time and time again that it's not a "male problem" or a "women's issue" but that it's instead an "us problem," but what does this truly mean? Is hearing about an issue enough to spark a need to fix it or is there more to the process?

Effective understanding of sexual assault can boil down to two simple realizations: regardless of age, race, gender, or personality, anyone can be an offender in the same way anyone can be a victim, and every individual has a personal responsibility to actively prevent sexual assault whenever possible. The misconception that certain groups, such as males, can't be or aren't victims, or that other groups, such as females, can't be offenders, leads to victim blaming and allows offenders to get away with their actions.

If each individual understood these very basic concepts, strategies to identify perpetrators and support victims would naturally result. Although these are seemingly easy concepts to grasp, the underlying fear associated with them, that anyone is vulnerable, often causes individuals to ignore or push aside the reality as a means of not dealing with it.

Preventing sexual assault is not as simple as telling men that sexual assault is wrong and telling women to choose "safer" outfits or not to drink because these ideas completely miss the root of the problem and focus on aspects that really aren't a factor. Most men do not commit sexual assault and the few that do, already know it's wrong but do it because they don't fear being held accountable.

A woman's clothing choice or alcohol consumption are not the reason they're sexually assaulted, and assuming they are allows us to blame women for their actions while actively ignoring the possibility that a man could be a victim as well. Progress can only be made after these facts have been acknowledged by the majority because helping female victims alone or ignoring female or couple offenders will simply hide half of the problem rather than resolve it. Most Air Force members know that the overwhelming majority of sexual assault reports come from females and that most offenders are male, but most are unaware of the other half of reality.

While most official reports of sexual assault within the military come from females, it is estimated that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of sexual assault victims within the DoD are actually males, the majority of which never report the crime due to a variety of reasons. On a similar note, while approximately 95 percent of sexual assault offenders are male, there is little to no discussion about the other five percent of sexual assaults committed by females and couples.

It can be incredibly alarming for people to find out that as many as one in six males will be sexually assaulted before age 18. While statistics can be subjective, knowing that the focus of most sexual assault education typically does not encompass the entire problem is a crucial step to adjusting the focus and making real progress.

Once an individual acknowledges and understands that males can be victims, it's easier to see that the continued focus on just female victims does a great disservice to each and every male who has survived a sexual assault. In the same thread, that individual gains insight into one very powerful reason why many male victims never report--society sets a perception that men cannot be a victim and therefore forces many males to fear they won't be believed or worse, to question if their traumatic experience is valid. We do not have the luxury of excluding an entire gender from discussion merely because we don't understand that they could be a victim or an offender. Hence, we can't pigeon hole the discussion into a "male problem" or a "women's issue" but instead must frame it as an "us" problem.

A sense of personal responsibility has to be found by each individual and will be unique to them alone. While one person may fight sexual assault because it's part of their evaluation as a leader, another may help because of their personal experience as a survivor and yet another may believe that preventing sexual assault will protect those they love.

The point is not what someone's reason is, but instead that they have a reason at all. It is this reason that will cause a person to feel compelled to step in when an inappropriate or sexually harassing comment is made or to ensure that they know all the resources to help a victim. If every individual feels a personal responsibility and therefore commitment to preventing sexual assault, the "us" problem can quite easily transform into an "us" solution.