Sexual assault not a gender issue
Russell Strand, chief of the U.S. Army Military Police School Behavioral Sciences Education and Training Division, talks to Fort Benning senior leaders about achieving cultural change to eliminate sexual assault, Aug. 19, 2013, at McGinnis-Wickam Hal... (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT BENNING, Ga., (Aug. 21, 2013) -- Leaders across the Maneuver Center of Excellence learned more about the Army's efforts to change its culture as it relates to sexual assault and harassment awareness prevention, as retired Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent Russell Strand spoke Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, at McGinnis-Wickam Hall, Fort Benning, Ga.

"The number one message that I have for anybody today is that we're taking this seriously," Strand said. "We're doing a fairly good job, and we're going to do a lot better. I'm excited because if the Army can't change this, no one will, and I really believe the Army is going to get at this."

Strand, the chief of the U.S. Army Military Police School Behavioral Sciences Education and Training Division, has more than 30 years of law enforcement, investigative and consultation experience. His expertise and training includes domestic violence intervention, critical incident peer support and sexual assault, trafficking in persons and child abuse investigations.

Strand presented two sessions for brigade, battalion, and company command teams about achieving cultural change to eliminate sexual harassment and assaults in every rank.

"It's so hard for us to change our culture because we bring in, just in the Army alone, 80,000 new Soldiers each year from the culture at large," Strand said. "We have to inculcate our Army values within that population, and we're in a constant state of flux and change."

He also said that the cultural change must begin with junior Army leadership before it can spread Army-wide.

"Victory starts with the junior leadership, and works its way through," he said. "Unless it gets to the junior leadership, the four-star generals aren't going to be able to make a difference. What the generals are doing, though, is putting the right priority on it, putting the right resources to it and holding people accountable to make sure that we do make a difference."

One of the challenges, Strand said, is making sure that sexual assault and harassment awareness prevention, or SHARP, efforts are personal for each Soldier.

With most formations consisting largely of male Soldiers, Strand said it is important that these Soldiers recognize sexual assault and harassment is not a female-only issue.

"Culture change never occurs unless it's personal to everyone, all of the time," Strand said. "If the vast majority of the Soldiers in our formations are male and they see this as a female issue, they think it's not really for them. So, we're helping them to understand that this is not a gender issue, it's a human issue. One of the ways we're doing that is we're putting more emphasis on male-on-male sexual assault."

Strand said survey data indicates that more males overall are sexually assaulted each year in the Army than females. However, that could be attributed to the fact that there are more males than females in the Army, as a higher percentage of female Soldiers are sexually assaulted each year.

In addition to focusing on culture change, Strand also talked about the threat that sex offenders pose.

"Oftentimes, sex offenders will join the military specifically because we are a values-based organization," he said. "They can hide, get inside the organization, wear the same uniform and act the same as everybody else. Then, when they commit the sexual assault, people tend generally to not believe that they are the type of person who would do something like that because they follow all the values on the outside."

However, Strand also said SHARP efforts must also provide support to all victims of a sexual assault or instance of sexual harassment.

"Being a victim of sexual assault is far more damaging in many ways than even combat injuries," he said. "You don't see the visible wounds. When we talk to commanders and senior non-commissioned officers and the leadership at the junior level, we have to help them understand that after somebody is sexually assaulted, it has a huge impact, just as you would see with an improvised explosive device injury, a brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder. Those have the same signs an symptoms that many of our sexual assault victims experience."

Strand also said it is vital for commanders to make sure that victims are welcomed back to their units after an assault, rather than facing more traumatic experiences.

"Even after a sexual assault has occurred, when that victim comes back to the formation, leadership has got to be aware and involved to make sure that that Soldiers is not ostracized, treated any differently or ridiculed," he said. "That's where the leadership at the squad level and even the informal leaders have to be involved."

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