FORT JACKSON, S.C. (April 17, 2014) -- As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, the Department of Defense is calling on service members in April to recognize and understand the seriousness of sexual assault in the military.
On Fort Jackson, that initiative took the form of a SHARP summit at the post's NCO Club on Tuesday, bringing together senior leaders, representatives of the University of South Carolina and other guests to discuss the issue.
"We don't tackle problems the same way the rest of society does," said Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, Fort Jackson commanding general. "We take them head on and we fix them, and that's why we're here. We're the folks who do it. It's the leadership who identify that we've got a problem, and how we're going to fix it."
SHARP, the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, is designed to promote an Army culture that ensures all Soldiers are treated with dignity and respect. One of the problems, Becker said, is that too many people are bringing obsolete, negative or dangerous values with them when they enlist.
Part of the initial SHARP mission was to change a culture that contributes to sexual misconduct, a task that was projected to take 12 months to complete. In retrospect, Becker said that goal was unrealistic.
Col. Mark Bieger, commander of 171st Infantry Brigade, expressed concerns that the Army was focusing too much on assaults, as opposed to more common forms of misconduct.
"In order for us to get at this culture, we've got to talk and come to grips with the harassment part of this equation," Bieger said. "Our female Soldiers, primarily, are enduring this every single day. Because we're so laser focused on the assault part of this, I think we're missing a huge part of the challenge that the Army faces."
The Army is aggressively addressing sexual assaults by first focusing on prevention through education and training. Army leaders are increasingly encouraging reporting, and are working to reduce the stigma associated with sexual violence. Once reported, the Army focuses on care for victims and thorough investigations and prosecutions to hold offenders accountable.
Becker also said there have been unintended morale problems created by SHARP.
"From my perspective as the senior commander, sexual assault and sexual harassment is something that we've got to take on, but there are some second- and third-order effects we've got to consider that really impact our AIT platoon sergeants and drill sergeants in such a way that we may not realize it," he said. "As we aggressively go after (assault) reporting, which is what we sometimes do, we create the perception that were putting our platoon sergeants and drill sergeants under a microscope and going after them. It's not true, but that perception is absolutely out there."
The concept of Tuesday's event was to encourage dialogue among the post's senior leadership. In order to put a face on the problem, the event's guest speaker, identified only as "Kimberly," detailed her experiences as a sexual assault survivor for the gathering.
The consequences of being sexually assaulted last longer than most people would imagine, she said, such as the time she was confronted while on a date by her attacker during the years he awaited trial. He's now serving a prison sentence, she explained, but that doesn't mean he's not going to be the part of every relationship she'll ever have.
"This is something he not only has to deal with for the rest of his life, it's something I have to deal with for the rest of my life," she said. "When I date someone new, and it gets serious, this is something I'm going to have to (reveal.) It always comes up, anyway."
Becker said the Army needs to develop a method of screening new Soldiers during Basic Combat Training, and reject those with incompatible values.
"What if we had a way to help identify those folks through peer evaluation, that we had a process for eliminating them?" he asked. "Because they're poison, they're cancer. The longer they're in your unit, the more people they pull in, especially new folks. Before long, it just spreads."
Becker said the discussion needed to depend less on SHARP practices and more on what is considered "acceptable behavior" in the Army, regardless of who is involved.
SHARP Top 10
The SHARP Top 10 are designed to further individuals' and leaders' understanding and guide leader actions:
-- Sexual assault and harassment represent an insider threat with the potential to cause significant, irreparable harm to our Army.
-- The Army Profession demands leaders of high competence and high character.
-- Standards and discipline are the cornerstones of a positive unit climate.
-- We must consistently enforce all policies related to sexual assault and harassment.
-- We need to clearly "see" ourselves; leaders must continually assess the command climate and environment within their units or organizations.
-- We must execute prevention policies, training initiatives, and education programs in order to get to the left of any incident.
-- The chain of command is obligated to protect and advocate for victims, beginning with an initial report and until the victim decides he or she no longer requires assistance.
-- We must thoroughly and professionally investigate each report and take appropriate action.
-- Commanders must create and maintain a positive command climate with trust and respect as the foundation.
-- The crimes of sexual assault and harassment can only be solved by a committed chain of command led by dedicated commanders and command sergeants major.