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Officials discuss recent sexual assault cases

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- Recently, two Airmen were court-martialed for sexual assault. 

The unfortunate events surrounding these cases serve as lessons for all base members. Lessons such as the importance of trust, the need for forthright communication and the value of support agencies available for victims. 

One Airman was found guilty of rape and was sentenced to seven years confinement, a dishonorable discharge, a reduction to E-1 and forfeiture of all pay and allowances. The other was found guilty of indecent assault among other offenses and was reduced in rank from E-4 to E-1 and sentenced to six months confinement. 

According to Maj. Graham Todd, 5th Bomb Wing, Deputy Staff Judge Advocate, these cases have a common thread in that they both involved a violation of trust. 

The Airman who was found guilty of rape committed the crime against an ex-girlfriend, who was a civilian, on her 21st birthday. The Airman was the designated driver for the night and gave the victim a ride home at the end of the night. The victim was significantly intoxicated and passed out in her apartment. The Airman then took advantage of her while she was passed out. 

"So what we had with this case was an Airman who violated trust," said Major Todd. "He was entrusted with being the designated driver for the night, which is a good thing, but in the end he did the wrong thing and took advantage of the person with whom he was entrusted." 

According to Marilyn Nurnberger, 5th Bomb Wing Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, alcohol use by the victim or perpetrator is frequently associated with acquaintance rape. 

The Airman who was found guilty of indecent assault committed the crime against his roommate. The Airman attempted to take off the victim's bath robe as she came out of the shower. After a few moments he stopped and apologized to her, but the crime had already been committed. 

"This case is also about trust in that a male and female are sharing an abode together and they trust each other to do so," said Major Todd. "Then one of them violates that trust and tries to take advantage of it for a brief moment in time. These are important cases because the facts are similar to many facts our Airmen are faced with; party situations and someone is intoxicated, and Airmen sharing domiciles with the opposite sex." 

According to Major Todd, sexual assault cases are unfortunate for military members because they are given all the trust in the world. 

"If people are involved with someone of the opposite sex, both parties need to communicate clearly on where the relationship is and where the relationship is going, physically as well as emotionally," said Major Todd. "Don't try to guess, because if people guess wrong they could hurt somebody, which can create consequences." 

Communication is very important, but men and women who have been consuming alcohol can be less able to communicate about what they want and what they do not want out of a sexual relationship, said Mrs. Nurnberger. 

"The odds 'maybe' or 'no' are interpreted wrong increase when either party has been drinking. Some perpetrators may even push others to drink so the victim will be less likely to resist physical or emotional pressure to resist sexual activity. Regardless of how much a person drinks, no one is ever justified in forcing sex if the other party says 'no' or is under the influence of alcohol." 
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