MILTON, Fla. (NNS) -- Naval Air Station Whiting Field welcomed the arrival of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a combined proclamation of principles and educational performance event.
Air station Commanding Officer Capt. Matthew F. Coughlin proclaimed April as National Sexual Assault Awareness Month aboard the base before ceding the station's auditorium to an interactive theatrical experience by Chicago-based Catharsis Productions.
Coughlin offered an unequivocal condemnation of all sexual assault. He stressed its pernicious effects as a destroyer of lives, communities, careers, and the military itself.
"Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment impact our community... everybody loses," he declared.
While Coughlin roundly denounced sexual assault in general, he highlighted the instances of "blue on blue" incidents as a debilitating attack on Navy core values, a supreme violation of trust, and a detriment to mission readiness of forces worldwide.
The base commander emphasized that the consequences of an assault spread collateral damage far beyond those individuals directly involved. He related how the legal expenses, loss of manpower, emotional distress, and time expended pursuing justice for a single offense can cripple a unit. Coughlin also noted that the lingering effects - victim trauma, lost resources, and even jail time - can linger for years.
"I... join all anti-sexual violence advocates and support service programs in the belief that all community members must be part of the solution to end sexual violence," he said.
Following Coughlin's address, actors Fawzia Mirza and George Zerante took the stage to perform "Sex Signals," an awareness-themed improvisation show in which air station personnel were invited to participate.
The performers asked the audience to give input on scenarios ranging from absurd exaggerations of gender-based stereotype behavior to grave discussions of how an intimate encounter crosses the threshold of assault. The performance followed an arch from benign displays of farcical scenarios involving awkward "ice-breakers" and clumsy advances to more realistic explorations of how assault unfolds in the wake of bad decisions.
A scenario involving service personnel and an accusation of rape drew particular emphasis from Mirza and Zerante while eliciting broad-based commentary from the audience. At each stage of the incident, the actors paused to query members of the assembly. The circumstances surrounding the characters' initial encounter, particularly the effects of alcohol in the decision-making process, came under close scrutiny by participants.
The performance also highlighted two of "Sex Signals" signature educational techniques: audience tailoring and fact-based action.
"We try to personalize the show to each audience," Zerante said.
The focus on Navy terminology, common duty routines, off-duty circumstances, and familiar lifestyle elements were designed to move the action away from abstraction and offer a concrete demonstration of the flow of events leading to assault in a military relationship.
"We perform versions of the show for all services. We know that when you go from the civilian world to the military world, your language changes, and we try to adapt to that," Mirza said.
Moreover, the show's content is informed by the actors' training as Sexual Assault Responders and the writers' firsthand experience with assault victims.
"Most of our performers come from a theatrical background, but everyone who performs the show receives 40 hours of training in sexual assault response; many of the show's writers [at Catharsis Productions] have worked with victims and draw from that when creating the framework," Mirza said.
Although each show unfolds in a unique fashion based on audience type and participation, common themes are emphasized by the framework. The actors highlight the importance of bystander intervention in preventing assaults, the value of common sense and restraint in dating, and the danger that is introduced when alcohol consumption impairs judgment.
NAS Whiting Field was one of only five installations in Navy Region Southeast to host "Sex Signals" this April. The base's Fleet and Family Support Center sponsored the performance, and newly appointed FFSC Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Rachel Phillips introduced both herself and the actors to the crowd.
Phillips encouraged all air station personnel to support SAAM initiatives during the month of April, practice vigilance against sexual aggression all year, and to contact FFSC at any time for additional information or direct assistance.
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response is an important element of the readiness area of the 21st Century Sailor and Marine initiative which consolidates a set of objectives and policies, new and existing, to maximize Sailor and Marine personal readiness, build resiliency and hone the most combat-effective force in the history of the Navy and Marine Corps. The Department of the Navy is working to aggressively to prevent sexual assaults, to support sexual assault victims, and to hold offenders accountable.
Help raise awareness by joining the conversation on social media using #SAAM.
For more news from Naval Air Station Whiting Field, visit www.navy.mil/local/naswf/.