News: Mock court martial capstone to week of sexual assault prevention and response events
Story by Senior Master Sgt. Allison Day
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- The military has used every available means to convey to those who serve that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment and sexual assault.
A group of Marauders came up with a twist to drive home the awareness of sexual assault. They held a mock court martial at the Rock Theater Wednesday afternoon at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. The case involved a sexual assault involving two friends and fellow Airmen. One is accused of raping the other.
"The mock court martial provided an opportunity to educate Airmen about the military justice system and to further educate them about the adverse effects of sexual assault in the military," said Maj. Sam Kidd, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing staff judge advocate. "The trial also gave some of our junior enlisted Airmen a rare chance to see what it feels like to sit on a panel and deliberate on the guilt or innocence of a fellow Airman."
In a military court, the panel can be compared to a jury in a civilian court.
"This was an awesome experience," said Senior Airman Derrick Davis, 386th AEW finance customer service technician and cashier. "It showed me how much pressure panel members face when having to make a ruling. We are talking about the freedom or sentencing of a person's life."
It was very difficult to arrive at a verdict because each side presented their case very well, said Davis.
"The emotions behind the testimony of the victim really stuck with me," said Davis. "I couldn't help but sympathize with the victim, but I couldn't let that cloud my judgment, which was the hardest part."
As a panel member, Davis and the other members were only notified of the charge of the defendant shortly before the trial. The mock trial also included Airmen who played the roles of the accused, offender, trial counsel, defense counsel, military judge and witnesses.
"I have heard of other legal offices conducting mock trials or mock courts-martial for similar purposes, but it does not happen very often," said Kidd. "At most home stations, there are actual courts-martial being convened and all of them open to the public, except in rare circumstances, so Airmen have the opportunity to attend an actual court-martial."
Role players put a lot of effort into making the mock court martial a realistic scenario, added Kidd. As an audience member, Lt. Col. Jared Nelson, 386th AEW director of staff agreed.
"I felt it was effective and educational," said Nelson. "It underlined to me how important it is for a victim to report a crime immediately, so that the evidence can be gathered. We talk all the time about not drinking and driving; I think that we need to start having open conversations about sexual harassment and sexual assault."
The sexual assault response coordinator for 386th AEW, 1st Lt. Natalie Campos, feels that many Airmen have voiced their concerns regarding the perceived lack of prosecutions and stated that offenders are not held accountable, she said.
"A mock trial on a sexual assault case also enhances the knowledge of victim advocates on how to better prepare victims emotionally before going through a court martial," said Campos. "It was really important for the audience to see the effects of a sexual assault for both the victim and the accused."
The victim in this case provided gripping testimony that had some audience members in tears. Then the accused testified, which is rare in cases for the alleged offender to take the stand, that the actions on the day of the alleged rape were consensual.
"The government bears the burden of proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt and the accused Airman has the unequivocal right to remain silent," said Kidd. "The panel members were given a short time to deliberate before voting on a verdict. Deliberations in a real court-martial usually take hours before a panel renders a verdict."
After the mock jury trial, members of the audience were able to ask questions about the court-martial process.
The latest statistics show that there were 5,061 sexual assault cases reported within the Department of Defense and in the Air Force there were 1,052 reports, according to the Fiscal Year 2013 Annual Sexual Assault Preventive Response Report.
"The most important take away from the numbers is to accept that it's happening within our ranks and we have to open our eyes," stressed Campos. "General Welsh said it himself; 'We're not seeing it...that's why we don't think it's a problem.' The objective of the Air Force sexual assault response strategy is to eliminate sexual assault through awareness and prevention, training, education, victim advocacy and accountability."
The mock court martial was the capstone in a week which include a SAPR stand-down day and multiple sexual assault discussions throughout the wing.
"I think it demonstrated how the trial process works, so that those who are faced with the decision to report a sexual assault or not, at least have some familiarity with what happens at a court-martial," said Kidd. "I also think seeing a scenario role played like this is one of the most effective ways for participants and the audience to internalize the message."
This work, Mock court martial capstone to week of sexual assault prevention and response events, by SMSgt Allison Day, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.