Courtroom trial opens eyes of new Airmen
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The sound of voices resonate through the hollow courtroom as a jury of Airmen state the jurors' oath by raising their right hand and affirming their commitment to "well and truly" try an Air Force member accused of sexual assault. Shortly after, they're presented with testimonies that will strongly influence their final decision.
In order to provide Airmen a front row look at the impact of sexual assault, Misawa's First Term Airman's Course conducted a mock trial, called the "Got Consent" program, for Airmen May 8.
Misawa's FTAC provides new Airmen with the tools and information needed begin their Air Force careers during a week-long orientation at their first permanent duty station. The courtroom element, which was conducted for the first time late last month, was added to the curriculum to demonstrate what can happen as a result of a sexual assault and to stress the responsibility every Airman has to combat and prevent them. The program fits alongside Misawa's "Be An Ally" campaign which reflects the Department of Defense's fight against sexual assault.
"It shed some light on how an actual trial works, especially because I had never been to court before," said Airman 1st Class Brian Wood, 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle and vehicular equipment maintenance apprentice and mock trial jury leader. "It also showed me that sexual assault really happens and I need to actively fight against it."
Airmen were encouraged to play a role in preventing sexual assault through emotional and legal demonstrations. The course also emphasized the correlation between sexual assault and reduced inhibitions to encourage Airmen to apply the wingman concept, consume alcohol responsibly and use bystander intervention.
Master Sgt. Tanya Lopez, 35th Fighter Wing law office superintendent, who has recorded many sexual assault cases as a court reporter, stressed the significant difference between reading about court cases and being in the room to experience it firsthand.
"No one ever thinks about what it would be like to be the accused or an accuser in a sexual assault case," she said.
By making the program hands-on, Airmen are able to take away information through direct experience. The situation this group of Airmen faced, which was based off a 2011 sexual assault case, was portrayed by actors who played the roles of the plaintiff and defendant. The aspects of the sexual assault involved alcohol and two people who knew each other before the situation occurred. This case was chosen because its traits are seen in the majority of sexual assaults, according to Lopez.
"When the Misawa judge advocate office heard about this program, we decided to give it a try," said Lopez. "We teamed up with the chaplain's assistants, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and FTAC to get our own 'Got Consent' program right here at Misawa."
The chaplain office covered topics like how men and women interpret conversations differently, the SARC discussed the effects of being a bystander as well as the importance of responsible drinking, and the base legal office provided the opportunity for FTAC students to participate in a court-martial as jury panel members.
"Most of us didn't know what it meant to be court-martialed so when we got to see the whole process, it put it into a new perspective," said Airman Chrystal Tullis, 35th Surgical Operations Squadron aerospace medical technician and mock trial jury member. "Now I am better prepared to handle this situation if it ever happens to me or someone I know."
The team who brought this program here is actively working to make it even better, added Lopez.
"I am confident that by educating our Airmen, we will see a decrease in sexual assaults simply because this experience will resonate in their minds whenever they find themselves in a similar situation as the one in the scenario," she said.
The "Got Consent" program is scheduled to be incorporated into every FTAC class, which occurs approximately every three weeks.