By Andricka Thomas and Sandy Gibson (ATEC) April 29, 2014
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Aberdeen Proving Ground senior leaders gathered for a Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention, SHARP, Summit April 16 to provide a forum for APG leaders to exchange ideas, best practices and discuss the way ahead to encourage reporting practices and spark a culture change of trust that holds offenders accountable for sexual harassment and assault offenses.
"Sexual assault goes against everything for which we stand. Serving as a member of our nation's Army means we are held to a higher standard. It starts at the top. As leaders, we have it within our power to create an environment of trust and respect to protect our Soldiers, Families and Civilians…this is why we are here today," said Maj. Gen. Peter D. Utley, commander of the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, and host of the summit at APG.
As the Army makes a commitment to eliminate sexual offenses within the ranks, this one-day event themed 'Achieving Cultural Change: Strengthening Trust, and Supporting Victims,' served as a forum for APG leaders--military and civilian--to raise awareness and understanding of the issues being addressed in the Army and, ultimately, eliminate unhealthy behaviors and attitudes as it relates to sexual assault and sexual harassment.
"If we leave here today having engaged in constructive dialogue, challenged one another to think and share ideas on how we can attack this insider threat, we will have been successful," said Utley. "Every member of the Aberdeen Proving Ground community can help eliminate this threat by taking an active stance against such behaviors and encourage reporting practices."
He views the summit as an opportunity for leaders to make a real impact in changing the culture surrounding the response and support of victims of sexual offenses. He said victims should be confident their leaders will take action if a crime is reported.
"Leadership comes with great responsibility," said Utley, who characterized acts of sexual assault and harassment as being an 'insider threat' to the Army Profession and are inconsistent with the Army's Values.
Keynote speaker, Carolyn Collins, Deputy Director (Civilian) of the Headquarters, Army SHARP Office, spoke about the Army's efforts to address incidences of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the ranks and provided an update on the status of current initiatives and focus areas designed to change the reporting climate so victims feel free to report without fear of reprisal or revictimization and with confidence their leaders will take action.
The Army is working with the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to establish a permanent SHARP School House, which the Army first started piloting on January 27 and will continue to run throughout the summer, Collins said. The school house is designed to provide centralized training for brigade and above SHARP personnel. The Army is also exploring the possibility of establishing a new military occupational specialty, or MOS, for Army SHARP professionals.
With the White House's interest in seeing sexual violence eradicated in the military, the Army is working with the Defense Department on how best to implement prevention strategies across the Army and is actively communicating with other military service branches, the Secretary of Defense and Congress on this top Army priority.
In addition to prevention of sexual violence--the Army's ultimate goal--there is ongoing focus on increasing reporting as senior leaders are aware that sexual assault is the most underreported crime in the Army and in the nation, according to Collins. During her remarks, she explained the Army's plan to provide victim advocates across the force, formalized training for victim responders, and revise reporting practices so victims feel safe in reporting.
"There are response efforts that happen after the crime is reported that involves both the victim and the offender," said Collins. "Everyone is watching how victims are handled and this will impact a future victim's decision on whether or not to come forward." She explained that potential offenders are also watching how sex crimes are handled and whether the offenders are being held accountable for their action, which could impact their decision to commit similar crimes.
As the SHARP program continues to evolve, there are plans to expand response and prevention efforts among the civilian workforce as well. Previously, only civilians serving in overseas assignments were eligible to receive services through the SHARP Program.
The day continued with a panel discussion comprised of APG senior leaders including Utley; Gary Martin, deputy to the commanding general for the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command; Suzanne Milchling, director of Program Integration at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center; and Douglas Bryce, Joint Program Executive Officer-Chemical and Biological Defense. Each leader engaged in a question and answer session where they provided their perspectives on the current environment and shared their thoughts on how to move forward as a team to eliminate incidences of sexual assault within the APG community.
There was consensus among the group that it is up to leaders to take action and support victims of these crimes so they can be successful and feel safe as they serve the nation.
A second panel discussion included representatives from Harford County Sheriff's office, Harford County Safe House, Harford County's State Attorney Office, and an APG Sexual Assault Response Coordinator/Victim Advocate.
Utley said he hopes leaders will leave the summit with a renewed sensitivity to victims of sexual assault and feel empowered to make a change and share the message with commands and organizations across the installation.
"Help us inspire members of our community to Intervene, Act and Motivate others to be responsive and eliminate sexual violence and harassment from our community," said Utley.