Fatima Figueroa Speaks Out About Her Daughter’s Sexual Harassment in the Military

Sarah Figueroa BeLatina Latinx
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Figueroa

The mother of an airman stationed in the Misawa AFB says that the military authorities have not done enough to address the sexual harassment suffered by her daughter on the base and that the man accused of it and who has an order of no-contact against him continues to flaunt it, making her daughter fear for her life. Fatima Figueroa spoke to BELatina and said that her daughter Sarah Figueroa, 21, who works as part of the engineering squadron at Misawa AFB, met the young man in question, who can’t be named because of the ongoing investigation, at military technical school. Fatima said her daughter described him as very quiet and that he kept to himself. They only started being friendly when they realized they were both assigned to Misawa, the mother said.  

She said Sarah lives in fear and is constantly looking over her shoulder because her aggressor is still active on base. Sarah was set to do an Instagram Live with BELatina but was told by the military authorities that she was not to speak to the press. 

BELatina did interview the mother, Fatima. 

“Sarah is agitated right now. She just wants this over with,” Fatima said. “This started in January (when Sarah initially filed a complaint.) She has been documenting, she has been reporting to every single supervisor. She is going through the chain of command,” she said. “She has submitted complaints.” 

The Misawa Air Base is home of the 13th and 14th Fighter Squadrons, flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon. It is a small base, located in Misawa, Aomori, in the northern part of the island of Honshū of Japan.

The Misawa airbase has a history of alleged sexual harassment incidents going back to 2007 when military lawyers tied the increase in cases to alcohol abuse

Last February, airmen at Misawa Air Force Base were put under a curfew by 35th Fighter Wing commander Col. Kristopher W. Struve in response to a wave of alcohol-related incidents in January and December.

The incident that initiated the complaint involved the young man going through her intimate clothing after entering her room while she was traveling with her family in Alaska. Sarah reported it in January and it was not resolved until September with the enforcement of an order of no-contact — but not before Fatima became actively involved, pressuring Sara’s superiors with phone calls and emails.

After the no-contact order, Fatima said, “they have moved Sarah twice, but that is the only solution that I have seen; moving is not the solution,” she said. “He has not respected the no-contact order.” 

“My daughter feels threatened, harassed, and fears for her life,” Fatima said.  

Authorities at the base claim that it’s just a “coincidence,” because the base is so small, Fatima said. They have yet to answer why they do not authorize a transfer for Sarah, 

“This is for you Vanessa,” Sarah wrote recently in her Instagram account. Vanessa Guillén, a 20-year-old U.S. Army soldier, was murdered on April 22, 2020, inside a Fort Hood, Texas, armory by another enlisted soldier, Aaron David Robinson, age 20. Guillén had been missing since April 22 when some of her dismembered remains were found buried along the Leon River on June 30.

“I pray that the Vanessa Guillen Act passes and I hope anyone who sexually harassed their brother or sister in arms and thinks they got away with it is scared. The Vanessa Guillen bill will put a stop to this ridiculous neglect,” she wrote. 

According to the authors of the bill, The “I am Vanessa Guillen Act” would make sexual harassment a crime within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and move prosecution decisions of sexual assault and harassment cases out of the military chain of command. 

BELatina contacted the office of the Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs to try to shed light on the status of the administrative procedure.

In response, the office stated the leadership at Misawa Air Base is aware of the concerns raised by Figueroa on her Instagram last week.

“There have been investigations here conducted by a variety of helping agencies since initial reporting of an incident and subsequent allegations brought forward,” they wrote. “While we cannot discuss the details of the on-going investigations, we can confirm that we have been working toward a solution for Airman Figueroa and take all allegations of interpersonal violence, including bullying and sexual harassment very seriously.”

“The safety and well-being of all of our Airmen is our top priority and will continue to be,” the office added. 

The question that needs to be answered now is why has it taken so long to come up with a proper solution, especially in light of the Vanessa Guillén case.