FORT BRAGG, N.C. - In recent years, the Department of Defense issued a directive that has changed the way military services see and manage sexual harassment and assault. A major impetus is the expansion of the program that, for the Army, removed active-duty harassment cases from the office of equal opportunity to combine harassment and sexual assault under one banner.

In March 2012, Fort Bragg began a transition program to move sexual assault prevention and response programs from a garrison-led initiative to a senior commander-led program under the auspices of sexual harassment/assault response and prevention.

Nearly a year later, the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program is up and running, with a fully functioning sexual assault hotline and a sexual assault response coordinator on-call system.

"At Womack Army Medical Center, we have a sexual assault care coordinator to ensure the victims of sexual assault receive all aspects of medical and behavioral health needed. We provide one-on-one counseling, continuing education to develop the expertise of SHARP specialists, and advise commanders and SHARP installation leadership on matters related to the care of victims," said Col. Marilyn Brooks, XVIII Airborne Corps SARC and SHARP manager.

The public website went live last month. Program leadership has established a SHARP battle rhythm which includes SARC huddle, sexual assault review board, Fort Bragg North Carolina/ XVIII Airborne Corps SHARP standup, SHARP mobile training team course, and bi-monthly SHARP Leader Development Program.

Brigades and tenant units are committed to ongoing strategy and diligence about methods to prevent sexual assault and harassment, improve safety, change the culture and engender trust from their troops. Tremendous progress has been made to strengthen the military/civilian relationship in managing cases of sexual assault in the local community. All aspects of the program collaborate with counterparts in the local area. SHARP's strongest partnerships are with the police department special victims unit and the Fayetteville rape crisis volunteer program.

"The XVIII Airborne Corps/Fort Bragg SHARP newsletter is a voice for SHARP specialists, Soldiers, leaders, civilians, chaplains and Family members to ensure that we are heard and heeded as we bring XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg commander, Lieutenant General. Daniel Allyn's message to all -- sexual harassment and sexual assault have no place in our community. Fort Bragg has put in place a multilayered, complex, and exceptional program to ensure we keep that pledge," said Brooks.

"We want to take care of the victim. In all of this they come first. We want them to understand what's right, what's wrong, what their options are and where they can get help. We want them to trust their command to do the right thing," she said.

WAMC has one of the largest and best teams of sexual assault nurse examiners in the nation, with 20 to 22 SANE specialists as part of the program, and a hospital commander who supports and assists the program. SANE nurses provide 24/7 sexual assault forensic examination; they do so with compassion, tenderness, and extreme competence. Additionally, the center provides a plethora of professional providers and specialists, available for the physical and mental care of victims.

"Soldiers need to know what's available to them," said Brooks. "They need to be able to trust that the sergeant, the general and I are going to do the right thing."

Fort Bragg has a large contingent of CID agents especially trained for the violent crime of sexual assault. Also available is a special victims prosecutor, who is committed to ensuring that prosecutions are fair but strong.

Each unit has SHARP specialists in place to provide guidance, support, and information to the victim, to train the force on the program, and to advise commanders on program execution. Fort Bragg has about 600 victim advocates in place throughout the installation. Monthly, they facilitate a two-week specialized course of study to produce more victim advocates. This course, the SHARP MTT Course, is provided by Department of the Army.

Brooks said, possibly the most important aspect of this comprehensive care victims is the commander at the company, battalion or brigade level. She said the commander is the one who is accountable for the program, for the care of victims, the selection of SHARP specialists, training of troops, unit climate, investigation of SH/SA allegations, and follow through. He or she is the one Soldiers must trust to get this done and to create an environment of intolerance, an environment in which they feel safe, and a culture in which all do more than observe, but who intervene, act, and motivate! For information on SHARP, visit: http://www.sexualassault.army.mil/.

"Is it perfect," said Brooks. "It's as close to perfect as any program can get if we can continue to build, market it and get it out there by making commanders, first sergeants and platoon sergeants understand that this is the answer. The military can set the standard. We can deliver the format for how to do this the right way."

(Editor's note: Col. Marilyn Brooks, RN, MSN and CE, also contributed to this article.)

Page last updated Fri March 8th, 2013 at 00:00