Personal approach pivotal to sexual assault prevention
April 10, 2014
By Amy Perry
FORT LEE, Va. (April 10, 2014) -- Few topics weigh heavier on an Army leader's mind these days than sexual harassment and assault.
They are crimes that, frankly, shouldn't exist among the ranks of a professionally trained military force that lives by lofty values like respect, honor and integrity. Yet, a 60-percent increase in reported incidents last year, according to statistics released by the Pentagon, indicates a serious need for intervention and additional training.
How to truly make a difference is where the challenge lies. Commanders like Col. Mary Beth Taylor, who heads up the 23rd Quartermaster Brigade at Fort Lee, and Col. Thomas Rivard, 59th Ordnance Bde., believe a personal approach is pivotal to sexual assault prevention.
"Many of us (leaders in her brigade) know someone who has been harassed or assaulted -- parents, siblings, spouses, children -- or have experienced it ourselves," said Taylor who, like Rivard, is responsible for training many thousands of first-term Soldiers annually.
"To get our message across," she continued, "we use those personal experiences to show the pain it causes an individual or their loved ones. It brings them into the fold and gets them thinking, 'what are you going to do to prevent it?'
"If you see something, you have to say something," she stressed. "You wouldn't want it to happen to you or someone you love."
Rivard agreed and said it's important to get everyone off the sidelines.
"Command emphasis is essential and engaged leaders are invaluable. We need the whole team involved and working to change the culture," he said. "The Intervene, Act and Motivate campaign gets at this goal. It's the 'every Soldier is a sensor' concept, and it's the solution to our problem."
The views being shared by Taylor and Rivard are pertinent given the April observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. It's a time to place additional command emphasis on the importance of the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, program and remind military communities that the campaign to eradicate sex crimes from the ranks is non-stop.
"Total command involvement is the key to prevention," Taylor said. "We have to bring the Army-wide SHARP goals down to our level. If Soldiers don't see the emphasis within their units, they aren't going to come forward. You have to be able to trust whomever you're going to report it to."
Fort Lee commanders are using a wide array of training initiatives to get that message out. Across the installation, there are victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators who -- along with platoon sergeants, instructors and senior leaders -- are facilitating daily training sessions, group discussions and scenario-driven role playing exercises. It's one of the first things an incoming Soldier hears; the command teams are laying out their expectations regarding SHARP from day one.
"It's a very candid, unvarnished discussion with the warriors that underscores the trust and respect they should have for each other," said Taylor. "As we're in this transition phase of turning them from civilians into Soldiers, that's the goal. We want to train them to recognize the differences of right and wrong in the military. For example, the use of slang or other words that may be OK while you're a high school or college student isn't acceptable in the Army. It's all professional, and that's how they need to represent themselves.
"All of the training sets the foundation of where we want to go with the new Soldiers -- trust, respect and professionalism," she continued.
The training continues throughout their tenure on Fort Lee, and even includes workplace recognition exercises. The Soldiers in Taylor's Logistics Training Division, for instance, are taught to recognize inappropriate behavior on the job.
"When they are in the warehouse phase of their instruction, they go through scenarios that show how a sexually inappropriate situation could occur in the work environment," she said. "The instructors use the phase of training and the work environment to build a scenario and discuss SHARP."
This continuous focus on preventing sexual harassment and assaults has paid off, Taylor noted. It has made it easier for Soldiers to come forward to protect a battle buddy or to get help for themselves.
"In some of our group sessions, we've uncovered cases of harassment, abusive sexual contact and inappropriate relationships," said Taylor. "Many of those incidents occurred prior to the military when these Soldiers weren't getting the counseling and assistance they needed. I think that's an indication that we're gaining the trust of the warriors, and they are more willing to open up. They see that Fort Lee and the Army are serious about getting them help, and they come forward to start the counseling process."
Rivard's brigade has seen similar results, and when someone comes forward to report an offense, the command team takes it very seriously, he said.
"If the incident is a sexual assault, I'm notified within an hour as the first colonel-level commander in the chain for the Ordnance students." said Rivard. "(For unrestricted reports) the Criminal Investigation Division is typically contacted within 30 minutes to begin its investigation.
"We ensure the Team Lee member is taken care of with victim advocates, medical assistance and counseling services, as needed," he continued. "As for the accused (if it's a recent incident that occurred on the Ordnance Campus), we place an administrative flag on them and create separation between them and the victim in the work environment. These steps allow for an objective investigation and provide a secure environment for the victim."
Knowing this procedure encourages Soldiers to step up and report offenses with less fear of reprisal or embarrassment. It is an important part of the prevention program, said Rivard.
"What we try to convey to the Soldiers is that it's not OK to stand on the sideline and watch things happen," he said. "We want them to act. We want them to intervene. We want them to report. Ultimately, when Soldiers don't meet our expectations, it usually boils down to one of three things: attitude, aptitude or training. We're doing a great job with the training, and the Soldiers are smart enough to know what right looks like. What we have to focus on is their attitude; we must convince them that their behavior matters and that sexual harassment and sexual assault have no place in our Army -- even if they're a bystander."
Convincing Soldiers of the professional nature of the Army is the first step in the training process, Taylor noted. The motto of the 23rd QM Bde. is "The Corps Starts Here" and she takes those words seriously. The brigade cadre knows it's their job to instill the training and discipline needed to be a professional Quartermaster Soldier.
"It starts with the leadership helping junior troops understand what right looks like and what they should see when they go out to the rest of the Army," Taylor said. "We make sure we have the right people in place, and we have the leaders who build that trust with the Soldiers.
"If they don't see what right looks like here, they aren't going to know what to expect from the rest of the Army," she said. "It could easily discourage them or lead them astray. We want it to be right here so the standard is in place."
Next week, the Traveller will continue its focus on SHARP with an article that discusses the legal implications of sexual harassment and assault including comments from the chief of military justice and the special victims prosecutor here.