Army emphasizes sexual assault prevention, strives to educate
April 8, 2013
By Mary Barczak
As the month of April begins, the Army's attention turns to the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention program.
Sexual assault is any unwanted contact. Sexual harassment is an inappropriate joke or comment. Master Sgt. William Umbleby, Fort Knox's sexual assault awareness coordinator, said one-third of sexual assaults are preceded by some sort of sexual harassment. If court-martialed for sexual assault Soldiers can be dishonorably discharged or face up to 30 years in prison.
Though the SHARP program is fairly new, Umbleby said he thinks it has had a good impact on the Army. It was established by former Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey in 2008 to address various scandals. Two years later, officials at Fort Knox really started pushing the program and getting individuals trained in the program, Umbleby said. There is a SHARP representative in every directorate on post and even more victim advocates.
"(Even one assault is) one too many," he said. "We are a band of brothers and sisters and if we can fight next to each other than we should be able to take care of each other."
Before the program was formed, people may not have known how or where to report an incident of assault, Umbleby said, but now it is mandatory for every Soldier and civilian employee to take a sexual assault seminar once a year.
There have been nine reported cases of Soldier and Family member sexual assaults this fiscal year at Fort Knox.
"Each case is different," Umbleby said.
But all of these specific ones have involved women ages 18 to 20, were alcohol related and divided between on-and off-post occurrences. There is a sexual assault review board that meets once a month for Fort Knox to examine trends of the incidents.
Most cases are reported through the crisis hotline, said Umbleby, which is manned 24 hours a day. If a call is missed the responders have 10 minutes to call the person back. After reaching callers, the victim advocate explains their rights as victims. Then callers must choose whether to make their cases restricted or unrestricted. Restricted means they can still receive medical treatment and counseling without disclosing any identifying information about their attackers. If they go this route, the gathered evidence is put into a box for five years in case victims change their minds.
Unrestricted means the person can receive medical treatment and counseling but chooses full disclosure of information about their attackers to those who need to know such as their chain-of-command and the criminal investigation command.
"However, if you want to prosecute," Umbleby said, "the case must be unrestricted."
A word of advice, he added. If victims initially seek the help of military police or Criminal Investigation Division then they waive the right to have their case be restricted, he said.
Educating the community about sexual assault has helped people to come forward, Umbleby said.
"We are try to get away from the victim focus and promote bystander intervention, victim care and going after offenders," Umbleby said.
In his experience, one of the most common reasons why victims don't make a report is because they will have to retell and therefore relive the experience.
The ultimate goal of the five year SHARP campaign is to eliminate the culture where sexual assault and sexual harassment is OK, Umbleby said.
"We need to make people aware that these still do happen and they need to stand up and do something about it," he said. "And I think that conviction starts with the Army Values."
The month's events will include two information fairs, one today from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at the Heritage Room at the Saber & Quill and a second on April 11 at the same place and time. The event is open to the community.
Umbleby said there will be more than 20 agencies present at the fair to help educate and build awareness about sexual assault.
The third event, "Take Back the Night," will take place tonight from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the Saber & Quill on the Verandah. Community members can come together to show their stand against sexual violence.
Further, SHARP will have a 5k Fun Run/Walk on April 27 at 9 a.m. at Gammon Physical Fitness Center. Registration begins at 7 a.m. and the safety brief will be at 8:45 a.m. This event is free and open to the community. The purpose of the walk is to raise sexual harassment and assault awareness along with promoting Family fitness, health and camaraderie.