The Air Force is launching a new pilot program that will put resources for survivors of domestic abuse, stalking, cyber bullying and sexual assault in one central base office to make reporting and finding support easier. The initiative comes after a study last year found thousands of unreported cases within the ranks.
On Aug. 1, the service launched the "Integrated Response Co-Location Pilot program," which will place seven bases' sexual assault advocates and religious counselors under one roof at each base.
"This is about supporting victims, plain and simple," Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones said in a press release. "Co-locating support services for victims of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other forms of interpersonal violence is meant to help victims easily navigate available resources."
Stateside, the pilot program will be launched at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas; Vandenberg Space Force Base, California; Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Overseas, the initiative will be tested at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and also at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the U.K.
"Integrating these services allows us to enhance survivors' healing and simplifies the advocacy process," Lt. Gen. Caroline Miller, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in a press release.
The pilot program comes as the Air Force reckons with reports of frequent instances of physical and mental abuse in the ranks, and on the heels of high-profile cases in the military such as the sexual harassment and subsequent murder of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen in 2020.
Findings of a survey compiled into a wide-ranging report released in November 2021 by the services found that more than half of Air Force and Space Force personnel experienced some type of mental or physical abuse while on orders.
Of the nearly 70,000 active-duty personnel, reservists and civilians who responded to the survey, roughly two-thirds of the women and 48% of the men reported "interpersonal violence," ranging from psychological incidents like rude jokes or belittling and bullying to physical abuse such as sexual assault, dating violence, family violence or workplace violence.
Katherine L. Kuzminski, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank who researches military culture and family issues, said the Air Force has been leading the other services in pushing new policies meant to aid survivors. She added that the pilot program is a simple solution, but could have a big impact on airmen and Guardians.
"Having all these services all in the same place makes sense," Kuzminski told Military.com. "For someone who has been a victim of sexual assault or harassment, walking through the door is hard enough. Having all those resources there helps."