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UMW professor will help Air Force battle sexual assaults

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Christopher Kilmartin, professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington, will begin teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy in July, bringing his expertise on men’s issues and gender-based violence to the Colorado Springs campus. 

He will be teaching courses titled “Men and Masculinity” and “Interpersonal Violence” within the Behavioral Sciences Department for one year before returning to UMW.

Kilmartin is joining the faculty amid heightened attention to sexual assault in the military due to a growing number of reports. Also, a bill before Congress is seeking to take the power to punish sexual assault from commanders and allow prosecutors to handle it.

Wilbur Scott, a professor of sociology in the Behavioral Sciences Department at the Air Force Academy, said Kilmartin’s expertise is needed.

“Everyone in the military knows it’s time to get serious about sexual assault,” he said. “That’s where Chris comes in.”

He said the problem has become more visible in the last year, and the chair of the department wanted to expand offerings in education of gender-based violence.

“I want them to have a knowledge base about gender issues and a basis of what intervention strategies might be effective in preventing assault,” Scott said about the cadets.

Kilmartin said that the students in the Air Force Academy now are the future leaders of the military, and educating them is the first step in changing the culture around sexual harassment and assault.

Commanders, and others in power, need to change the way they interact with cadets, he said.

“If a commander tolerates sexual harassment or partakes in calling women names, it is 6 percent more likely that a sexual assault will occur under his command,” Kilmartin said.

He said that while the bill before the Senate is a step in the right direction, he would like to see more resources funneled into sexual assault prevention.

He also sees himself in the role of an “in-house consultant” at the academy, and said he wants to be able to review their sexual assault policies and practices.

Between 2088 and 2011, Kilmartin worked with the U.S. Naval Academy on a revision of sexual assault and harassment prevention curriculum. He also was a scriptwriter for a U.S. Army training film on the same topic and has presented at the Army Summits on Sexual Assault.

“There are big pockets of the military where people don’t take this seriously,” he said. “And they don’t realize that it happens to a lot of men, as well.”

He said most people have trouble coming to terms with the facts that while most men are nonviolent, the vast majority of violent people are men.

“We have to understand that there is something about this culture that makes it likely that certain men with other risk factors become violent.”

He said more attention needs to be paid to prevention.

“We say boys will be boys, but there is something we can actually do,” he said. “We can raise boys differently. Violent ones can be held accountable for behaviors and amplify the healthy male voices.”

While at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Kilmartin also will work on the fifth edition of his textbook “The Masculine Self,” write two scholarly articles and conduct research.

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976