FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, July 17, 2013) -- Better communication between leaders and troops is key to combating sexual harassment and assault, said the Army's top civilian leader.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh spoke last month during a meeting with Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, representatives.
"We have to do everything we can in leadership and within our ranks to talk about and face up to this problem," he said. "This is the main challenge we face today beyond being at war.
"You can succeed from this day forward in virtually every aspect of your military career," he continued, "but if you fail at this, and that is leading on the issue of sexual assault, you've failed the Army."
Also last month, McHugh detailed a new directive that will make the Army the first military branch to require behavioral health screenings for those who provide advocacy services to sexual assault victims.
The Army's top uniformed leader also emphasized the seriousness of the issue.
"It is time we take on the fight against sexual assault and sexual harassment as our primary mission," said Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno at a SHARP summit. "It is up to every one of us, civilian and Soldier, general officer to private, to solve this problem within our ranks."
Throughout the Army, commanders are evaluating their own efforts to fight sexual harassment and assault and are taking additional steps. One of these leaders is Col. Anthony R. Hale, commander, 704th Military Intelligence Brigade.
Sexual assault goes against the Army's core values, Hale said in an interview this month at the brigade headquarters, located on the campus of the National Security Agency.
Hale, who took command of the 1,700-person brigade in July 2012, backed his words with actions.
He established a Commanders Care Council to identify high-risk Soldiers. Determination of a Soldier as high-risk, he said, is based in part on the U.S. Army Forces Command's Risk Assessment form.
The form, originally used to identify Soldiers who might be at risk of suicide, indicates risk factors related to finance, family relationships, medical/health and well-being, stress, the use of alcohol and other drugs, as well as duty performance. The assessment also highlights protective factors such as social support network and coping skills.
While the form is still used for evaluating risk of suicide, it also can be used by unit leaders to develop a comprehensive picture of the health and welfare of Soldiers, and assist leaders at all levels in providing counsel to their Soldiers in managing and mitigating risk.
The form is one way of identifying Soldiers who might be prone to being sexual predators, as well as those who are vulnerable to such attacks, he said, noting that researchers have validated a direct correlation between information on the form and future high-risk behaviors.
The council meets monthly, he said, and armed with information regarding high-risk behaviors and vulnerabilities, leaders at all levels are able to interact in positive ways with those who are considered at risk and SHARP specialists and master resilience trainers are able to target training to bolster resilience and minimize vulnerabilities.
Next year, the brigade's council will become part of the unit's Ready and Resilience program. But in the meantime, Hale said, he has a tool he can work with and it has the added benefit of improving communication between troops and leaders.
In addition to the Care Council, Hale directed that a Command Climate Survey be administered. He said the survey indicated that despite all of the talk about combating sexual harassment and assault, many of the Soldiers didn't understand how or when to intervene and weren't sure who to report incidents to.
Professional development sessions, facilitated by the brigade's SHARP representatives, provided an opportunity for leaders at all levels of command to learn about changes in the Department of Defense instruction regarding sexual assault prevention and response and to review reporting procedures, ensuring clarity so that they could appropriately counsel and train their Soldiers.
The SHARP representatives then organized sensing sessions and focus groups with small group interaction, which Hale said, were designed to get the conversation started and thoughts out in the open. About 150 such sessions have already taken place.
Hale also directed that a sponsorship program be initiated for new arrivals to the brigade. According to statistics, he said Soldiers are at a higher risk during periods of transition.
During the first 90 days, Soldiers are paired with another person from the brigade of similar demographics. For example, a single, male Soldier would be paired with a senior single male Soldier, and so on, he explained.
It works like a mentorship program, he continued. The senior Soldier is able to facilitate the transition and assess the integration into the unit and community. The sponsor can ensure the quality of living conditions and minimize stress to the Soldier and family.
After 90 days, the mentorship program ends, but the open-door policy Soldiers have with their leaders continues.
"Leaders have to be approachable, available and accessible," he said.
Social psychologists have long been aware of the "bystander effect" as it relates to crime. If a person is being assaulted, bystanders often don't intervene.
Hale and his SHARP specialists, Sgt. 1st Classes Julie Hoke and Shawn Hill, are changing that mentality through engaging Soldiers to get the word out.
When it comes to sexual harassment and assault, Hale said bystanders must come forward, if not to intervene then to report what has happened through their chain of command or to a SHARP representative.
If Soldiers see or hear something, they have to say something, he said.
Sexually-suggestive, inappropriate comments, and other forms of sexual harassment must be reported, along with assault, he said, noting that studies show sexual harassment is often a precursor to sexual assault.
Two such cases of harassment in the brigade were recently reported and Hale meted the maximum punishment allowable under non-judicial punishment.
Once a bystander or victim steps forward with a complaint, "that Soldier is not bounced around," Hale said. "I take a personal interest in following the case through to its conclusion."
The result of command support, the education process and group sessions has resulted in larger-than normal numbers of Soldiers stepping forward to file harassment or assault charges, he said, "and while it doesn't feel good to know that it is happening within our formation, I am honored that Soldiers trust the chain of command and feel safe in reporting."
In addition to group sessions and one-on-one counseling, the brigade has done a number of other things, including putting up SHARP displays and posters in the barracks and holding special events.
WALK A MILE
Once such special event is called "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes." Soldiers and civilian employees walked for a mile to empathize with the victims of sexual assault as part of the brigade's Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities. Hale said the word "His Shoes" could easily be substituted because there are many male victims as well.
At the end of the walk, the participants observed a table full of combat boots, each pair representing a male or female Soldier at Fort Meade who had been sexually assaulted within the past year.
"We tend to think it doesn't happen here or it doesn't happen in my unit, but (unfortunately) it does," he said. Three pairs of those boots represented Soldiers from within the 704th.
The SHARP representatives are currently working with victims of sexual assault, assisting them in accessing medical and behavioral health care and helping them return to duty. In addition to the two SHARP representatives at the brigade-level, 16 victim advocates serve at the battalion- or company-level.
While all of the brigade's SHARP representatives have completed the 80-hour SHARP certification course, they have also received additional training regarding victimology, rape trauma syndrome/military sexual trauma, culturally competent care-case management, trauma and self-care.
Hale emphasized that SHARP representatives and victim advocates are carefully screened and interviewed to ensure the conduct of each is beyond reproach.
With all of the programs and sessions and time spent on combating sexual harassment and assault, Hale admits that some of his Soldiers have expressed "SHARP overload," or the "feeling of walking on eggshells."
Hale's advice to them is not to worry.
"If you treat each Soldier with the dignity and respect that you would a member of your family, then you will do the right thing and have nothing to fear," he said.
With 25 years of Army service, Hale said the Army, specifically his brigade, has become like family to he and his wife, and since they don't have children, his Soldiers are like his adopted children. He said he deeply cares for each of them and wants them all to succeed in the Army and in life.