KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Jeffrey Buchholtz had a few choice words for his Team Kirtland audiences Sept. 7 at the Phillips Conference Center: *&!$, *@#$%, @#!%&, and *%&#@%$*@, to name a few. He also displayed double middle fingers in response to a question from a chaplain! The guest speaker, director of We End Violence, was dealing with the subjects of violence and sexual violence and his candor was razor sharp. It seemed necessary and appropriate.
He was shedding light on the ways we denigrate one another and how these are amplified in the mass media we consume.
One relatively less shocking example would be the word “slut.” While the description of what makes someone deserving of this term would vary greatly depending on who you ask, there was a consensus in the auditorium that “sluts” are not deserving of respect. Bucholtz asserted that this lack of respect associated with the labels, stereotypes and myths we ascribe to women and men enable bad treatment and victimization.
The speaker also referred to the Air Force Core Values, an ethos which anchors a culture of dignity and respect.
“It’s easier to victimize someone you don’t respect,” he told the audience. This led to an examination of how victims are blamed and often re-victimized when they choose to come forward and report a sexual assault. Because women (in particular) are held responsible for taking precautions to prevent being assaulted, they are inevitably considered to blame in some respect when it happens. But does any action by victims make attackers less responsible for their actions? Not in the absence of consent.
He devoted time to getting to the core of beliefs many Americans have about sex, romance, dating and what is acceptable behavior. He asked the group to consider the “no means no” concept to consent. If no means no, then everything else (by default) means yes. The way sex assault cases are tried, I can’t argue with his reasoning. Consent is often established based on the absence of a definite “no” from the victim. Anything short of that, include saying nothing (in a moment of what has to be profound panic for many people), means yes.
“Only yes means yes” is a much better baseline for consent. While it could prove awkward for members of a society which has difficulty discussing sex, Bucholtz explained, it ensures everyone involved is doing so willingly, based on their own free choice. Without these elements, consent cannot exist. Just to reiterate, yes means yes and everything else is no. This simplifies and strengthens consent, making it easy to understand, relatable and not up for interpretation.
The profanity illustrated his examples of how we treat one another poorly, and how we are encouraged to think by mass media. He said some things that I never thought I’d hear at the Phillips Conference Center—maybe in a hangar, or a Public Affairs office on deadline day—but during a professional presentation. Still, the most uncomfortable part of the presentation didn’t contain any cussing.
“Do sexual assaults happen here on Kirtland?” he asked. Like any other group at any other base in the Air Force, we had to concede that they do. “Do all victims feel comfortable in reporting them?”
Until our paradigms on respect and consent change, the answer will remain “no.”