By Michelle A. Armstead April 28, 2014
I've been a member of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program team for more than eight years -- first as a Soldier and now as a civilian. I am proud of the work that the team of Soldiers and civilians do on a daily basis. We are the voice of those who temporarily lose their own when they are victimized by a brother or sister in arms.
The newly creat- ed SHARP team at Fort Gordon has hit the ground running. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and a command program, special activities, and training will be conducted to increase community awareness and to send the message that prevention of sexual harassment and assault is the responsibility of each person at Fort Gordon.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Col. Samuel Anderson, Fort Gordon Garrison commander, a few questions about the SHARP Program. His comments reflect a strong commitment to the SHARP Program goals and convey his intent to ensure that the Garrison leads by example. This is what he had to say…
What is your vision for the Garrison's SHARP program?
Providing vision in this particular area is actually fairly simple -- to ERADICATE sexual assault and sexual harassment from our Army. There is simply no place for it in the military, or in any setting for that matter. Saying you want something to occur, and setting the conditions for your vision to become reality, however, are very different and we obviously have a lot of work to do in order to set those conditions for the vision to become achievable.
How do you intend to implement that?
First and foremost it requires leadership presence and a positive command climate. Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Stockton and I want to be visible to the members of the command, approachable and positive. Inspired leadership makes everyone feel as if they are a part of a team, and that each individual is important to the team's success. When you think about it, sexual assault and sexual harassment -- in addition to being a crime -- is basically someone putting their own interests above that of the team or above that of their teammates. Open communication where everyone feels they can contribute has the residual effect of ensuring inappropriate and/or illegal behavior is not tolerated. It is unfortunate that the Army has been forced to create such a comprehensive program as SHARP to combat a problem that is as basic as treating everyone with dignity and respect. If you can't do that, then I want everyone to know that you are in the wrong business.
Since DOD's emphasis on SHARP, has there been an increase or decrease in SHARP reported incidents within the Garrison?
The military population of the Garrison is very small in comparison to a traditional brigade-size formation, so while I'm not sure the metrics within the Garrison can point to a trend one way or another, I do think that the education program that has accompanied the SHARP campaign has not only altered the behavior of potential offenders, it has also made victims of sexual assault or harassment less susceptible to retribution. This creates the conditions necessary to encourage reporting and I do think we have seen positive results from this climate change throughout the Army and within the Garrison.
How do you feel about the adjudication process?
First and foremost the adjudication process protects the victim and provides him/ her the resources necessary to overcome a traumatic event. Victims come forward to be heard and to heal, not to simply punish the accused. While we certainly must place considerable effort to ensure there are tangible and visible consequences to sexual misconduct, we cannot forget the FIRST and PRIMARY responsibility is to protect the victim. We have made great strides in this area. The process overall, however, both from the perspective of the victim as well as the accused, is much improved because professionals are involved and commanders are given the information required to make decisions.
How can the tenant units better support the Garrison when it comes to the SHARP program?
Commanders need to look at sexual assault and sexual harassment like an IED. We want to get to the left of the explosion if you were looking at it on a timeline. That requires education and leadership, down at the Platoon and even squad level. We want to PREVENT these acts from occurring. Commanders must assume that the time invested in this is worth it even if it only stops ONE incident. I also believe that a strong sponsorship program and unit indoctrination program is of enormous benefit as it keeps people from falling through the cracks at the beginning of their tour, when many are most vulnerable to outside influences. The Garrison stands ready to assist units in any programs they want to initiate that help in education, integration, or counseling. This is about our profession and everything it stands for in American society. The parents who willingly provide their sons and daughters to serve our Nation deserve nothing less.