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Washington - Hoping to fight sexual assault in its own ranks, the Air Force said Friday a sweep of air base offices worldwide found thousands of suspect materials ranging from pornographic films to a beer bong.
It's not clear what the inspection, and the odd assortment of items it turned up, tells Air Force leaders about the link between the workplace environment and the growing problem of sexual violence. But it was meant to impress on Air Force commanders that they need to attack the underlying problem of unprofessionalism.
"We have a significant number of airmen who feel they have to 'go along to get along' by ignoring inappropriate images, workplace comments or other material that makes them uncomfortable. That's simply not the Air Force we want to be," the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, said in a statement. He ordered the inspections in late November.
The Air Force fell into the public spotlight on this issue partly because of revelations of sexual abuse of female recruits. An investigation last year found that 23 instructors allegedly engaged in inappropriate or coercive sexual relationships with 48 recruits at Air Education and Training Command at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Gen. Larry O. Spencer, the Air Force vice chief of staff, said Friday the inspections of offices and other work spaces at about 100 facilities in December found more than 32,000 items judged to be pornographic, unprofessional or offensive.
"This was not a witch hunt," Spencer said in a telephone interview. It was designed to reinforce the idea that every member of the Air Force should be treated with respect and that sexist attitudes must change, he said.
The Air Force said the no-notice or short-notice inspections found 631 items judged to be pornographic, including magazines, calendars, photos and videos.
They also turned up 3,987 items deemed unprofessional. Examples: a pubic hair in an office logbook, a beer bong and World War II-era airplane nose art depicting a fully clothed but "promiscuous" woman, according to an Air Force document listing all the items.
Among 27,598 items categorized by commanders as "offensive": a postcard depicting women in bikinis, lewd cartoons, a copy of the Air Times newspaper's "Hot Shots 2013" calendar with women in "provocative" poses, a picture of professional football player Tom Brady shirtless, a Confederate flag and a poster of Osama bin Laden.
Asked what this tells him about a relationship between problematic workplace items and the effort to combat sexual abuse, Spencer said it's a mixed picture and that the goal is to ensure professionalism in the workplace.
"Most of the items that were found some might find offensive (but) weren't in the category of vulgarity or pornography, although there was some of that out there and those were taken care of," he said, adding that he's not sure there is a clear link between offensive materials in the workplace and the problem of sexual assault.
"Whether offensive material is directly connected to someone creating a sexual assault or being involved in sexual assault, I can't draw that line directly," Spencer said. "But I think it all starts with the culture that we want to have out there, and that is a professional environment and that everybody is treated with respect."