WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 29, 2013) -- The Army launched an eight-week Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention and Response Program schoolhouse pilot program at Fort Belvoir, Va., Jan. 27, to better prepare sexual assault response coordinators, victim advocates and trainers.

The pilot program extends the training by an additional six weeks, and was directed by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and the G-1 Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, after they brought in sexual assault response coordinators, or SARCs, and victim advocates, or VAs, from across the Army for a panel discussion during the June 10, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, known as SHARP, program stand-down.

SHARP Director Dr. Christine Altendorf opened day one of the pilot class of 31 Soldiers and civilian students, which consists of newly hired Mobile Training Team instructors and select SARCs and VAs from across the Army. She told them when they return to their commands to teach the 80-hour SHARP certification course, "you're going to have to get in there and say by-standing is not okay anymore.

"We have to reinforce that it's not the victim's fault and provide that environment of victim advocacy, and we also have to make sure we know what we're doing when it comes to prevention -- to keep it from happening in the first place," she said.

Subject matter experts from the Army Management Staff College, the Office of the Army Surgeon General, Army Criminal Investigation Command, and the Office of the Judge Advocate General are scheduled to address the class at different times during the course. Additionally, the Army Training Support Center will prepare trainers to facilitate small group instruction. Students will also be provided blocks of instruction on materials incorporated from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute and the Inspector General School.

The curriculum includes training in the importance of resiliency; prejudice and discrimination; how to establish a foundation for a culture of prevention as well as the investigative and legal processes, ethics, and victim healthcare management. Students will receive more situational-type training in scenarios that are typically encountered by SARCs and VAs. Blocks of instruction to help broaden skill sets will also be held in conflict resolution and in presenting and conducting training.

Graduates will then return to the field and, in addition to teaching, the certification course at the battalion level and below, they will assist commands with executing SHARP annual unit refresher training and present SHARP senior leader briefs.

Altendorf said the Defense Department was taking a hard look at the pilot course.

"What we're trying to do is professionalize the career," she said. "There's not [military occupational specialty] right now for full-time VAs and SARCs, but we need to make sure that we all have a really good understanding, so professionalizing is where we want to go with this course."

Altendorf said the Army had 2,149 reports of sexual assault in 2013, which was about a 50-percent increase over what was reported in 2012, but that ranges from "touch" to rape, and they are not one in the same, she emphasized.

"We intend to delve into the data and do a full analysis of the reports. This will allow us to better understand the all the varying aspects of an incident and ensure we are able to communicate the proper information as related to data," Altendorf explained.

"A lot of the time, victims will delay reporting, it's something that could have happened a year or two, or even five years ago and they couldn't bring themselves to report it at the time, but now they can," Altendorf said. "So we have to break down what occurred in this year, which is what leads us to believe that we think we're creating an environment where victims are feeling comfortable in coming forward."