By Lillian BoydJuly 3, 2014
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 3, 2014) "We must take conscious steps to understand and reduce environmental risks, identify predatory behaviors, and mitigate personal vulnerabilities associated with sexual assault and harassment," Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, G-1, said in the opening letter of the Army's first formal Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention campaign plan.
The Army has seen a 50-percent increase in reports on sexual assault in fiscal year 2013 compared to fiscal year 2012, and officials believe it may be an indication of greater confidence in the Army's response systems and chain of command. In order to keep the momentum going by increasing awareness of Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, known as SHARP, services and encouraging victims to report, the SHARP campaign plan provides a road map of how the Army intends to synchronize actions across five lines of effort.
The SHARP efforts are in alignment with the DOD's Sexual Assault Prevention Strategy to embed and integrate programs across the force.
"To change the culture, to create an Army where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, where people understand boundaries -- that takes time," said Lt. Col. Geoff Catlett of Army G-1. "I think what we're doing is setting the conditions to create culture change."
The Army is facilitating the culture change by improving and synchronizing its response systems by enhancing prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy and assessment capabilities.
The Army has had a prevention strategy in effect since 2009, when it introduced "I. A.M. Strong" to the Force, where the initials stand for "Intervene, Act and Motivate," which focused on the importance of bystander intervention. Although marketing materials and messaging were created to get the word out, it was the release of the Department of Defense Prevention Strategy that served as the impetus for a standalone SHARP Campaign Plan that operationalizes the lines of effort set forth in the Strategic Direction to the Joint Force on Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, Catlett said.
The DOD Prevention Strategy gave Army leaders and the campaign team an opportunity to rethink how the program is discussed and to place greater emphasis on certain areas, Catlett said.
The campaign emphasizes prevention as a priority out of the five SHARP objectives.
"A lot of our training is geared toward education. We get a lot of young people coming into the military who don't necessarily have a solid foundation on understanding boundaries between people," Catlett said. "We try to educate young men and women of what it means to live in close proximity while treating each other with dignity and respect."
As for investigating assaults, the SHARP program assures victims that world-class investigators and prosecutors will take their case seriously in order to hold perpetrators appropriately accountable. However, there's more to accountability than punishing offenders. Leaders are now being held to an even higher standard based on their actions or inactions with regard to SHARP.
"We are holding commanders responsible for their command climates and doing it in a way we've never done before," Catlett said.
In addition to a more stringent directive on command climate assessments that includes questions on SHARP and which are administered more frequently at the company-level on up, commanders now have a 360-degree assessment tool that is used to evaluate performance.
"The Army will use these surveys and metrics to gather data and track progress for the assessment portion of the program," Catlett said.
The SHARP program is improving, enhancing advocacy lines of effort through a pilot of 11 new SHARP Resource Centers, a study to determine the feasibility of a separate military occupational specialty code for SHARP as well as a school house dedicated to professionalizing those who serve as sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates.
"It is a constantly evolving landscape." Catlett said about responding to numerous congressional mandates.
"I am constantly inspired by how much this means to the secretary of the Army and the chief of staff of the Army. They genuinely want to see an end to this horrible crime in our ranks." Catlett said. "And I think commanders want that too. We just have to continue to educate and be constantly vigilant."
For more information about the Army SHARP program, go to www.preventsexualassault.army.mil.