Air Force fights sexual assault with lip balm, hand sanitizer, breath mints

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month across the nation. How about a breath mint? Lip balm? Hand sanitizer? Sewing kit?  In the Pentagon, Defense Department officials have launched a massive public relations campaign to show they’re serious about cracking down on sexual assault in the military, while raising awareness among service members. Defense ...

Photo by Kevin Baron, Foreign Policy
Photo by Kevin Baron, Foreign Policy
Photo by Kevin Baron, Foreign Policy

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month across the nation. How about a breath mint?

Lip balm? Hand sanitizer? Sewing kit? 

In the Pentagon, Defense Department officials have launched a massive public relations campaign to show they're serious about cracking down on sexual assault in the military, while raising awareness among service members. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has recorded a message to the troops while DOD has expanded its victim-assistance programs, sought help from outside advocacy groups, and required sexual assault to receive attention higher up the chain of command.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month across the nation. How about a breath mint?

Lip balm? Hand sanitizer? Sewing kit? 

In the Pentagon, Defense Department officials have launched a massive public relations campaign to show they’re serious about cracking down on sexual assault in the military, while raising awareness among service members. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has recorded a message to the troops while DOD has expanded its victim-assistance programs, sought help from outside advocacy groups, and required sexual assault to receive attention higher up the chain of command.

And as with most DOD campaigns, folding tables and cardboard displays were set up in the apex between corridors 9 and 10, and promotional giveaways were handed out.

Every week there is some kind of promotional event at the apex — whether to get your cholesterol screened, take advantage of DOD retirement advice, celebrate Black History Month, or remind you of your cybersecurity responsibilities.

This month at the apex, as well as in the Pentagon Athletic Center, in order to remind troops not to sexually assault each other, the Air Force is offering a lip balm tube with a label that reads: "SAPR Sexual Assault Prevention & Response; Air Force National Capital Region; 24/7 Hotline 310-981-7272."

The Air Force also passed out tchotchkes like a box of breath mints, which has a bold sticker on the cover that says "NO MEANS NO!" — because nothing says leave me alone like fresh breath, apparently.

Or, military officers and civilian workers could try the 2.5-ounce hand sanitizer bottle shaped like an open palm. Printed on the bottle: "KEEP UR HANDS 2 YOURSELF," along with the telephone number for the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators 24-hour hotline.

Or, play catch around the Pentagon office using a mini foam football, always a favorite at exhibit booths. This one reminds troops "DON’T FUMBLE… GET CONSENT" and is printed with the same hotline phone numbers.

The mints come in a box wrapped in a trifold cardboard cover that asks "Are you at risk?" On one inside flap is a five-bullet explainer on "What is Sexual Assault?" On the other flap, "Minimize Your Risk" tips suggest that there’s safety in numbers, that you have your key ready before you reach a car door, and that you stay sober — or at least never leave your drink unattended. Another tip, from the breath mint package: "Match your body language to your words — don’t laugh and smile while saying, ‘No.’"

The package also explains what "consent" means and has a final pop quiz, teaching that if you have been sexually assaulted, you should not bathe or shower, presumably to preserve biological evidence.

Other trinkets included a pocket-sized flashlight; a sewing kit; and a small notepad and pen in a plastic carrying case.

Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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