SHARP Resource Center provides safe haven for victims
August 7, 2014
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- There's a saying that the Army is only as strong as its people. Taking care of Army personnel means providing for their needs -- physically, mentally and emotionally. In the event that any individuals become a victim of sexual harassment or assault, it is important that they receive assistance in a timely manner and within a safe and private setting.
To provide assistance to victims, Fort Drum has consolidated several support services within one building -- the Sexual Harassment / Assault Response and Prevention Resource Center, located at 475A Tigris River Valley Road.
While this location houses the 10th Mountain Division (LI) SHARP team, there are also designated garrison and Family Advocacy Program SHARP personnel who handle cases involving Family Members or Civilian Employees. These personnel have offices elsewhere on post, but they also use the Resource Center's consolidated services.
The center's location, on South Post, provides a level of anonymity that that is important for victims, said Maj. Adrian Sullivan, Division SHARP program manager.
"The SHARP office used to be within the division headquarters building -- Hays Hall," she said. "The Resource Center is a much more comfortable setting than an intimidating office-type setting."
The first thing individuals should do if they have been victims of sexual assault is contact their unit's SHARP victim advocate. Fort Drum employs approximately 465 victim advocates, who serve both Soldier and Civilian populations. These VAs provide assistance and support to victims and accompany them to the Resource Center to help them file a report.
Fort Drum operates a 24-hour hotline that victims can call to contact SHARP personnel. As soon as a call is received, professionals will ensure the safety of the victim and arrange for him or her to be brought to the Resource Center for assistance.
When an individual arrives at the Resource Center, he or she is invited to have a seat in the "Roaring Brook Room," an in-take space that is decorated more like a living room than a military office. Here, individuals can wait in safety and comfort as representatives come to them in order to provide medical attention, legal assistance and many other support services.
"We have a collaborative, supportive relationship with on-post health care providers (both clinical and medical), CID special victims unit, special victim counselors, special victims prosecutors and victim witness liaisons," Sullivan said. "Regardless of which services a victim chooses to use, the most important factor is that it is their choice to participate and the 10th Mountain Division (LI) SHARP team brings those services to their attention in a timely and compassionate manner."
One of the first professionals to meet with a victim is Flo Hare, nurse practitioner and Fort Drum's Sexual Assault Medical Management program manager. Hare said that it is helpful for victims to seek support in a timely manner for several reasons.
"Speaking forensically, it is important to seek care as soon as possible to preserve evidence," she said. "Medically speaking, the sooner they can engage with medical care, the sooner they can begin the road to recovery."
Hare's permanent office is located within the Resource Center. She said that this facilitates the reporting process, and it means that victims receive the right information in a no-pressure setting that focuses on their needs.
"It serves as a single point of entry for our victims that is dedicated to their care and recovery," she said.
Hare also said that the center allows victims to meet with representatives from several support agencies at once, helping to reduce the stress a victim feels.
"It limits the number of times they have to tell and retell their story, which can be traumatic in and of itself," she said.
Within the center, there is an office set aside for CID agents who assist victims. Having this designated space helps agents to prepare reports and gather necessary information, Sullivan said.
"CID has their own headquarters, but when they come here, they have a space of their own to work in," she said.
CID Special Agent Mike Stankovich said that having this space makes the investigation process more efficient.
"The investigation can, at times, be a very lengthy process," he said. "Having a dedicated office at the SHARP Resource Center is a force multiplier for the CID office. It allows a one-stop shop for the victims we encounter and a comfortable setting for an interview."
Stankovich also said that the Resource Center's warm, safe atmosphere is important as the investigation is in progress.
"These cases are the result of a traumatic event, and we want to do everything in our power to assist the victim and provide action commanders and the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate with a quality product so an educated decision can be made in terms of moving forward with possible prosecution," he said.
Having a dedicated space within the center also strengthens relationships between the CID office and SHARP personnel, allowing them to be more in tune with the other, Stankovich said.
In addition to meeting with medical personnel and special agents, victims also have an opportunity to meet with representatives who will assist them during legal proceedings.
"When a victim speaks with their sexual assault response coordinator or with a CID representative, the paperwork they complete asks if they would like to meet with our special victims counselor, Capt. James Harris-Chappell," Sullivan said. "If they say yes, he comes over and meets with them right away, providing advice and explaining the legal process to them."
Victims are also encouraged to meet with Fort Drum's sexual assault behavioral health provider, Nicki Fleming.
"Recovering from a sexual assault can be a difficult process," Sullivan said. "The Army recognizes that counseling is an important part of the healing process, and we have a designated provider who specializes in helping these victims."
Since the Army began a large-scale awareness campaign aimed at educating Soldiers and Civilians about sexual harassment and assault, the number of reported cases has risen steeply. Sullivan said that this is not an indication that more crimes are being committed, but rather a sign that victims trust command staff to intercede on their behalf and to help them obtain justice.
"Victims are more likely to come forward now, because they know that the command has their best interests in mind," she said. "They trust that if they report a situation, it will be dealt with appropriately."
Sullivan said that it is her hope that by educating the Soldier and Civilian populations, sexual harassment and sexual assault will become a thing of the past.
"The purpose of training is to prevent it from ever happening," she said. "It has never been acceptable to harass or assault someone, and we are sending a message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated."
As Soldiers and Civilians continue to see the command staff at Fort Drum emphasizing the importance of this training, the SHARP staff hopes that incidences will decline.
"Maj. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, 10th Mountain Division (LI) commander, and Brig. Gen. Michael L. Howard, acting senior commander, are very supportive of the SHARP program," Sullivan said. "It's not just another program that Soldiers must complete in order to check the box -- it comes down from the top that this is a serious issue and everyone is expected to take it seriously."
If you have been the victim or sexual harassment or assault, call the SHARP hotline at 767-6128. For more information about Fort Drum's SHARP Resource Center, visit their Facebook page at https:/www.facebook.com/10th MTNDIVSHARP.