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Sex Assault Prevention Poster Gets Attention

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE -- A civilian employee upset over a poster in a women's restroom at Wright-Patterson about tips to avoid sexual assault posted a letter over the poster because she objected to what she described as a culture that blames victims.

Her letter got her some attention on national websites including The Huffington Post and MSNBC.

The poster, headlined: "Preventing sexual assault is everyone's duty!" listed several tips to "avoid becoming a victim."

"It upset me," Jennifer D. Stephens, 32, a contract specialist said in an interview with the Dayton Daily News. "It probably angered me a little bit and I felt like it just speaks to all the wrong things."

The poster in Building 1 listed eight tips such as try to avoid areas that are secluded, be prepared to get yourself home, don't leave a group situation with someone you don't know well, and socialize with people who share your values.

"I think that's just the wrong emphasis to put for curbing sexual assault," said Stephens, also a captain in the Ohio Army National Guard. "That immediately makes the victim feel maybe I did something wrong because I was walking to my car by myself and I did get assaulted."

The note over the poster said, in part: "Posters like this only contribute to alienating victims by making them feel as though they will be blamed for what happened to them. This type of rhetoric only serves to promote the current rape culture that is entrenched in the military today by putting the spotlight on the victim instead of nailing the perpetrator to the wall."

The note was removed within a day of being posted.

Base spokesman Daryl Mayer said someone posted the tips poster on the base's Facebook page July 29, which set off a debate online.

"If someone's got an objection (to the poster), they're within their rights to express their objection to it," he said.

Facebook commenters debated, among other issues, a culture of blaming the victim versus telling perpetrators of the criminal consequences of their actions.

Mayer sent a statement on how the Air Force handles sexual assault in response to a request to interview the base sexual assault response coordinator. The prevention and response program tries to prevent assaults through "focused education, compassionate advocacy, and accountability to promote respect and dignity throughout our Air Force," the statement said in part.

"The Air Force takes a multi-faceted approach to dealing with sexual assault, which includes not only holding sexual offenders accountable and supporting victims, but also by preventing sexual assault from occurring in the first place," the statement said. "The poster in question is hardly the sum total of our attempts to prevent sexual assault."

In her response to the poster, Stephens said she listed advocacy groups victims of military sexual trauma could find help.

"Every survivor of military sexual assault, that has seen the poster has said the same thing," she said. "It's victim blaming."

"A lot of victims don't trust the military because the military is the one that failed them in the first place," she said.

Stephens said she has never been a victim of sexual assault, but experienced sexual harassment on a National Guard deployment to Kuwait.

She expects to meet with the base sexual assault prevention and response coordinator to talk about the program.

"I don't want to throw the whole program under the bus, and say they are worthless. They are not," Stephens said. "I just think there is room for improvement."

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