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Air Force base adds defense training in fight against sexual assault

Ninety airmen from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and 10 Wright State University employees are taking sexual assault self-defense training this week from a world-renowned martial arts company.

Col. Cassie Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing at Wright-Patterson, said the training is a response to the Air Force Chief of Staff’s call in December to re-emphasize the organization’s culture of respect and dignity.

The 100 trainees are working this week at Wright State with Rener Gracie and Eve Torres of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Barlow said those trainees will then be certified for a two-year period to train their colleagues, spreading the skills throughout the organizations.

“It’s much more than just a self-defense program,” Barlow said. “There’s the physical side of it, but also a mental and psychological side. … It hits all the things in the research like resiliency, assertiveness, self-confidence and situational awareness.”

America’s military has been under pressure in the past year to improve its handling of sexual assault issues. The same week that Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh made that call for respect and dignity, President Obama told military leaders they had one year to “step up their game exponentially” in both prevention of and response to sexual assault cases. Just last week, a Senate bill that would have turned military sexual assault cases over to outside prosecutors fell just short of defeating a filibuster.

According to the Associated Press, there were more than 5,000 reports of sexual assault filed during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2013, compared with 3,374 the previous year. Barlow said in addition to this week’s self-defense training, airmen get annual training on what constitutes sexual assault and harassment.

“There really is no one, most effective prevention technique for sexual assault. It’s a plethora of different things we do,” Barlow said. “It’s also creating the environment that encourages reporting. We’ve started to break away at that iceberg this year. We’ve seen, across the Air Force, an increase in our numbers (of reported incidents). I’d like to believe … airmen understand that we want them to come forward, that they can trust us, can trust that that we’re going to do something about it, and we’re going to help them.”

This week’s trainees are learning from Gracie, whose family is famous in the world of martial arts, and Torres, who was a professional wrestling “diva” before joining Gracie’s group.

Second Lt. Coraviece Terry said serving in the military with so many men can give some women “a sense of defeatedness,” so she was glad to participate and hopes to help train others.

“I think this will definitely give me a sense of confidence, knowing that I have the knowledge to protect myself if I’m attacked,” Terry said.

Barlow said she’s glad the base is partnering with Wright State, adding that the university will track overall responses to the training, as well as future sexual assault statistics to see what impact the training has.

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