Safe to Report initiated at USAFA

  • Published
  • By Rebecca Ward

What began as a concern about reporting sexual assault from an U.S. Air Force Academy cadet is now being put into action as policy for all service members within the Department of Defense.  

The Safe-to-Report policy removes a significant barrier for reporting sexual assaults by giving survivors the freedom to make an unrestricted report without fear of being penalized for minor collateral misconduct. 

Collateral misconduct is defined as that which is punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and is directly related to the incident that was the basis of the sexual assault allegation.     

In May 2018, the USAFA implemented Safe-to-Report after cadets told the Victims Counsel they were afraid to come forward to make an unrestricted report of sexual assault because they might be held accountable for collateral misconduct. 

“We want to ensure these is going to be second compared to the cadet receiving resources,” said Strickland, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Manager and acting director of USAFA Violence Prevention Office. “We’re advocates. We’re advocating for the best path forward for the client and we want to make sure they have every resource possible and make the best decision for themselves.”

Safe-to-Report makes significant strides toward helping sexual assault survivors overcome a fear of reporting. Strickland said it is a huge achievement that the policy made it into the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act and she attributes that success to the grassroots movement initiated by the cadets who came forward with their concerns. 

“One of the things we’re constantly trying to do is empower our population to make a difference,” said Strickland. “Without the support of leadership, a cadet wouldn’t have felt comfortable saying, ‘hey this is something I want to bring to the forefront.’ I think it is important we share with people that leaders are listening.”

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall signed a memorandum for Safe to Report on 
Aug. 25, which implements processes, procedures, training, and a tracking mechanism for the identification, analysis, and handling of “minor” and “non-minor” collateral misconduct within the Department of the Air Force. The policy is applicable in the case of sexual assault reporting regardless of to whom a victim makes the report, and regardless of whether it is handled by military or civilian authorities.  

Kendall’s memo states that commanders have discretion in deciding whether an offense is a minor offense, while it also lists examples of what should generally be treated as minor collateral misconduct, including: 

  • The victim was underage and drinking or in possession of alcohol at the time of the assault.
  • The victim was engaged in an unprofessional relationship with the accused at the time of the sexual assault. An "unprofessional relationship" is a relationship that violated law, regulation, or policy in place at the time of the sexual assault.
  • The victim was in violation of lawful orders establishing curfews, off-limit locations, school standards, barracks/dormitory/berthing policies, or similar matters at the time of the alleged sexual assault.

USAFA’s Safe-to-Report policy is now in its fourth year. Strickland said they keep an unofficial tally of the number of cadets who say the Safe-to-Report policy influenced their decision to report a sexual assault to the SAPR office. 

“Last year, we had 22 of our cases, almost a third of our cases, identify Safe-to-Report as one of the reasons they felt comfortable coming to the [SAPR] office to make an official report.”

To survivors of sexual assault, coming forward to make a report about their experience is a difficult step to take, especially if they are fearful of being disciplined for the circumstances surrounding the sexual assault. The new Safe-to-Report” policy is expected to alleviate much of that apprehension, giving service member survivors the confidence to report the crime without fear of punishment for minor, collateral misconduct.