Cover: An Integrated Survey System for Addressing Abuse and Misconduct Toward Air Force Trainees During Basic Military Training

An Integrated Survey System for Addressing Abuse and Misconduct Toward Air Force Trainees During Basic Military Training

Published Jun 18, 2015

by Kirsten M. Keller, Laura L. Miller, Sean Robson, Coreen Farris, Brian D. Stucky, Marian Oshiro, Sarah O. Meadows


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Research Questions

  1. How could a standardized survey system address gaps in the leadership feedback system at the U.S. Air Force's Basic Military Training?
  2. What data are needed to help leaders detect abuse and misconduct in the training environment?
  3. What data are needed to help leaders identify ways to reduce abuse and misconduct?
  4. What survey methods would promote open and honest participation by trainees and trainers?
  5. How should the survey results be analyzed and reported so that leaders can take action when necessary?

In response to several high-profile incidents of sexual misconduct by military training instructors (MTIs) during Basic Military Training (BMT), in 2012 the U.S. Air Force's Air Education and Training Command (AETC) asked RAND Project AIR FORCE to develop an integrated survey system to help address abuse and misconduct toward trainees in the BMT environment. Based on an extensive review of relevant materials — including internal AETC investigations of these incidents, Air Force and Department of Defense policies, and the scientific literature — RAND developed two complementary surveys, one for trainees and one for MTIs. The trainee survey assesses trainee experiences and related reporting behaviors for the following abuse and misconduct categories: trainee bullying, maltreatment and maltraining, unprofessional relationships, sexual harassment, and unwanted sexual experiences. The survey also measures individual perceptions of the squadron climate and BMT feedback and support systems. The MTI survey assesses the extent to which MTIs were aware of trainees experiencing abuse, as well as their perceptions of the related squadron climate and MTI reporting behaviors. The MTI survey also includes a section on MTI quality of life, including job attitudes, the work environment, and job stressors. An Integrated Survey System for Addressing Abuse and Misconduct toward Air Force Trainees During Basic Military Training concludes with recommendations about survey administration, reporting the results, and additional areas for improvement to better track and monitor actual instances of and the potential for abuse and misconduct.

Key Findings

When Integrated into an Overall Feedback System, the Survey Results Will Give Leadership a More Complete Picture of "Ground Truth" and Point Toward Corrective Actions.

  • A survey system can augment but should not substitute for direct interaction and monitoring by leadership and by support professionals.
  • Spikes in selected abuse and misconduct survey items should prompt follow-up discussions with trainees and MTIs to learn more.
  • Anonymous or confidential surveys can provide information that is not available through current formal reporting channels, including barriers to reporting that may exist, so that command can address the issue.
  • A comparison between the survey results and known incidents can reveal how many individuals do not feel comfortable coming forward to make a report.

The Surveys Should Be Anonymous or Confidential to the Greatest Extent Possible.

  • Previous problems were able to escape undetected and escalate in part because individuals were afraid to come forward and directly report problems.
  • Anonymity provides actual protection and the perception of protection to encourage participation and honest responses.
  • An identifiable survey would be redundant with existing reporting channels.
  • The survey system's value will be undermined if participants are required to enter any identifying information to access the survey; if the survey is administered by members in the chain of command or anyone being evaluated on the surveys; or if commanders, law enforcement, or legal staff attempt to discern a participant's identity.


  • The report contains two recommended survey instruments: one for trainees and one for MTIs. Both reflect pretesting in 2013.
  • The MTI survey integrates items and constructs from the MTI Quality of Life Survey so that only a single survey is needed.
  • All trainees should have the opportunity to complete a survey as they leave BMT; MTIs should have the opportunity at least once a year.
  • RAND strongly recommends that a qualified analyst with a background in the social sciences and statistics conduct the analyses and interpret the results. Trainee results should be reported quarterly; MTI results should be reported following each survey.
  • For an effective feedback system, AETC should track trends over time, triangulate with other relevant data sources and follow-up data collection, implement a systematic process for reporting results to senior Air Force leaders and other stakeholders, prioritize problem areas and set goals for improvement, and take action where necessary by implementing new policies and improvement plans.
  • In addition to the survey system, RAND recommends (1) routinely monitoring security camera footage for prohibited behavior, (2) periodically evaluating whether trainees comprehend and can properly apply the training that prepares them to report abuse and misconduct, (3) following up with victims and witnesses who have filed reports of sexual assault to request voluntary feedback about victim care and the reporting process, and (4) creating an online central repository, accessible by key leadership and support professionals, with aggregate data from the surveys and additional sources of feedback that indicate abuse and misconduct.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the commander of the Air Force's Air Education and Training Command (AETC/CC) and was conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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