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Preventing sexual assaults

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Ever since I was a teenager I have read true crime books. I have read numerous stories about killers and rapists who committed hideous crimes against men and women.

Since most of the books I have read are stories about women who were abducted by a stranger, raped and then killed, I naturally assumed the biggest threat of getting raped was from a stranger who harbors a lot of hostilities toward women because his mother didn't show him enough love as a child. The media also helped in my misperception of the typical rapist because the coverage of a sexual predator is usually that of the serial rapist.

I developed a rape prevention plan based on my perceptions that consisted of parking my car in well lit areas, and always walking to my car with my keys in hand so I didn't have to spend a lot of time in a parking lot searching for them. I've already planned to put up a good fight. I am not going to be kidnapped and raped without getting in a few good punches. I even planned what part of the attacker's body I would hit first and second and if I could get a third hit in, well, I knew exactly where that hit would land too. My home prevention plan consisted of a 75 pound (all muscle) Doberman Pinscher named Scar. In addition to Scar, I kept all of my windows and doors locked and I never opened my door to strangers.

If you would have asked me seven months ago what I thought about my rape prevention plan, I would have told you I had an excellent plan. But seven months ago I was assigned to serve the Osan community as the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. Now I realize just how naïve my perceptions of sexual predators were and how poor of a prevention plan I really had.

If I went out with friends and co-workers and they brought along a friend, I would befriend that person and perceive them as a trusted individual. Nobody told me that 80 to 85 percent of rape victims were raped by someone they knew and trusted. I didn't know that sex predators stalked their prey in everyday social settings, such as dance clubs, churches, the gym or a grocery store. I didn't know that predators stood in the background watching for the weak and the vulnerable, and it never crossed my mind how predators are masters of the art of manipulation.

I didn't realize that there are people out there who know how to place their chosen victim at a disadvantage. I had no idea that alcohol is the No. 1 date-rape drug in our country. I am guilty of crashing at a friend's house or a friend of a friend's house. I'm also guilty of inviting people to stay at my house, even though I didn't know them very well. It never crossed my mind I was putting myself at risk of being sexually assaulted.

I have made the exact same decisions that a lot of sexual assault victims make, and I can look back and see a lot of opportunities that I provided to strangers, who, for whatever reason, didn't seize the opportunity. Why I was never assaulted is known only to God, but usually the first words I hear from a victim is "I never thought this would happen to me." Their safe and secure world is turned upside down and they struggle to put the pieces of their life back together. They are no longer the person they were before the assault and will probably never be that same person again. They blame themselves for the unacceptable criminal behavior of their rapist, but the sad fact is they didn't do anything to deserve to be sexually assaulted.

There are no magic words or a fool-proof plan I can tell you that will guarantee you will not become a victim of a sexual assault, but there are several ways you can reduce your chance.

First, remember that sex predators are searching for vulnerable individuals to take advantage of, and if you are drunk you are vulnerable. Additionally, you should know how much alcohol you can drink and maintain your wits. If you're going to pass out after seven beers, stop drinking at three or four. Since soju is not regulated, you don't know how much you can drink before you lose control. So drink another alcoholic beverage that is regulated and one with which you can gauge your limits.

Second, always sleep in your own dorm room and don't invite anyone to "crash" in your room, especially if you don't know the person very well. It is easy to go out with a bunch of friends then find yourself alone with someone you don't really know that well. Don't allow someone to lead you off from your group of friends. If you see your party is dwindling and you don't know the individuals around you, call it a night and go home alone.

Third, always keep your doors and windows locked. It doesn't matter if you are drunk or sober, never leave your dorm unsecured. Believe me, if you knew what I know, you would ensure your door is locked at all times, especially before going to sleep or passing out.

Finally, always travel with your Wingman. There is safety in numbers. Remember, we are all members of the military and we owe it to ourselves to take care of and look out for each other.