SHARP officials to Soldiers: We're here, we'll listen
April 25, 2013
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- Note: The following recounts true stories of sexual harassment and assault experienced by three Soldiers -- a private first class, a sergeant and a sergeant first class. Their names have been removed at their request to protect their privacy.
At another Army post, in what feels like another life, three male Soldiers raped a female private first class.
She knew her attackers. They all served in the same company. Two were her noncommissioned officers.
"They were my friends," she said. "I said 'no,' and I fought as hard as I could."
After the attack, she didn't go to the police. She didn't seek medical help. And she didn't tell her commanders.
"I was a private," she said. "There was no way (my commanders) would believe a private over a specialist and two NCOs."
She said her pride took over and she "soldiered up," keeping the attack to herself.
She became angry. She didn't sleep and she lost weight. She attempted suicide.
When she admitted to counselors that she'd been raped, she said the Army provided a litany of services, none of which she felt would help.
"The Army threw all these people at me, all these people pushing me to talk," she said.
But she wasn't ready to talk. She wasn't ready to relive what was arguably the worst day of her life.
Then she met the representative for the post's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
"The SHARP (representative) was the first person that didn't ask me anything," she said. "At first I thought she was just another lady trying to get into my head. But she didn't push. She waited. She waited for me to lose it."
According to an Army study conducted between fiscal 2006-2011, more than 8,000 Soldiers committed sex offenses including 2,683 rape offenses.
At Fort Carson, between calendar years 2010-2012, 158 founded sex related offenses occurred.
Of those offenses, 111 were sexual assaults.
To help prevent and educate the Soldier population about harassment and assault, as well as provide an outlet for victims, the Army created SHARP in 2008.
An offshoot of the Army's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and Prevention of Sexual Harassment programs, SHARP trained Soldiers as victim advocates, with representatives at the brigade, battalion and company levels, providing Soldiers a confidant within their unit.
There are currently 579 trained SHARP representatives at Fort Carson with 11 civilians at Army Community Service, said Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Maldonado, 4th Infantry Division SHARP representative.
In April, to promote Sexual Assault Awareness Month, SHARP endorsed information booths and a postwide safety stand down day. It premiered the documentary "The Invisible War," bringing attention to the military's treatment of servicemembers who have experienced an assault.
Each quarter, SHARP representatives provide National Organization Victim Assistance certifications and training for SHARP mobile training teams.
And while the goal is to reduce the number of assaults, it is equally important to bring attention to and reduce sexual harassment, Maldonado said., 4th Infantry Division SHARP representative.
"We're emphasizing sexual harassment and not being a passive bystander," he said. "Assault is the end state. It begins with harassment."
For most of her service, the sergeant first class didn't realize she was being harassed.
When she was pregnant with her first child, an officer offered to help her "induce labor."
A first sergeant sent her inappropriate texts telling her how beautiful she was, even though he was married with a wife and children.
"I didn't realize that most of my career I've been harassed," said the female sergeant first class and one of the SHARP representatives at Fort Carson. "I didn't know or recognize what was happening to me and that I could report it."
Not recognizing sexual harassment is common for both male and female Soldiers, Maldonado said.
"It's systematic across the Army," he said.
When Soldiers are new to a unit, they want to fit in, Maldonado said. In order to fit in, Soldiers compromise their tolerance or values. They let the crude jokes and off-color humor slide in order to be accepted.
"It's human nature to want to fit in," he said. "We bring down our barriers and values to fit in. We may think some things are wrong, but we don't say anything."
Maldonado said that while SHARP officials hope to reach a short-term goal directing Soldiers to services, the attitude and behavior regarding sexual harassment and assault must change at the unit level, the individual level.
"Leaders must enforce dignity, respect and standards," he said. "Is (harassment) something we can change in training? No. It's up to the individual (to change)."
SHARP officials and Soldiers recognize this may be easier said than done.
"The people who (harass) you are often the ones closest to you," said a female sergeant.
On her first tour in Iraq, the sergeant said she spoke up about being harassed by her male counterparts.
"I was working and I heard (the male Soldiers) playing a game," she said. "They told me they were playing 'How many beers would it take for me to (expletive) them.' The specialist said zero."
She said the specialist, whom she considered a friend and a brother, grabbed her leg.
"I stopped it," she said. "But then he told our commanders that I was being disrespectful. That impacted me."
"Bystanders are just as much of the problem as the person committing the act," said the sergeant first class SHARP representative. "If you don't correct the behavior, you're setting a new standard. … If you turn a blind eye or a deaf ear, you're setting a low standard.
"There's a tactful way of saying what's right," she said. "They might be mad at you at first, but in the long run, they will have more respect for you."
For the private first class, things are improving.
"When I got here, I wanted to forget about it," she said.
Her SHARP representative, the sergeant first class, reminded her that she still had support.
When the private first class attended the Article 32 hearing involving her attackers, her SHARP representative escorted her.
"I thought I could do this by myself," said the private first class. "But I couldn't."If it wasn't for SHARP, I wouldn't be here. I don't like to swallow my pride and ask for help. But I know they're going to answer their phone. I know I'm not bothering them if I call later at night to talk things out."
SHARP officials said this is their mission, their purpose.
"We can't tell you when you're going to be ready to talk," Maldonado said. "We don't have a policy stating, 'If this happened to you Monday, you have to disclose it by the close of business Tuesday. Here's a list of people you need to see.' "It's not on our time; it's on the individual's time."
Maldonado said Fort Carson offers numerous support groups, but the individual must decide when the time is right to use those networks.
In the meantime, SHARP representatives will be there.
"(Sexual harassment and assault) is not going to change overnight," Maldonado said. "We have to start here as a group, in our units and pass that along to the younger generations."
For many Soldiers, talking about the experience is the first step.
"If we start speaking and start talking, even more will come forward," said the private first class. "Eventually (sexual harassment and assault) will go down. We have good support now; we're not just going to fall through the cracks."
As the private first class continues with her Army career, she hopes she can one day use her experience to help others, perhaps become a SHARP representative herself.
"I want to be able to do that for someone else," she said. "I'm not there yet, but I'm getting there."