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FORT BELVOIR, Va. (Aug. 15, 2014) -- If you are a victim of sexual assault or harassment, there is help available through the Army's Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Response and Prevention program.

Reducing sexual harassment and assault is one of the Army's top priorities, said Gwendolyn Gayden, SHARP victim advocate for Fort Belvoir.

SHARP services are available for active-duty Soldiers, retirees and dependents who are 18 and older. Department of Defense civilians are offered limited services. Victims have two options in reporting a sexual assault crime, she said. They can either choose an unrestricted or restricted report.

"If they choose a restricted report, we will offer them the many services available to them, which include ensuring they receive the proper medical, mental health and social services," Gayden said.

But choosing an unrestricted report means all of those services plus the support from their command, she said. It also includes an expedited transfer and the assault will be investigated.

"We will move forward based on which reporting options they choose. A victim has the right to decline any or all of our services, to include having a victim advocate," she said.

Some victims may not come forward with an assault, Gayden said, but they are encouraged to do so. A victim might worry about retaliation or getting in trouble for misconduct, such as underage drinking.

"Now, commanders can defer disciplinary action, if any, until the final disposition of the sexual assault case," Gayden said.

Retaliation is never tolerated by the Army and there are policies in place to address it, she said.

"Victims are becoming more comfortable (with reporting) because they feel they will be heard. They feel that there is someone who really cares about them," Gayden said.

The program is becoming more victim-focused instead of suspect-focused, which Gayden said was a huge step for those who feel their reports are being minimized.

SHARP not only focuses on sexual assault crimes, but dealing with sexual harassment, said Sgt. Maj. Tamika Wynn, senior sexual assault response coordinator.

Tasha Venters, SARC, said one-third of sexual assaults are preceded by sexual harassment. But many times, the victim may not realize they are being sexually harassed.

Harrassment is normally verbal but can also be physical, such as blocking you or rubbing up against you or leaning over your shoulder, Gayden said.

Sexual harassment can include being called inappropriate names and can also be creating a hostile environment, Venters said.

"Our biggest job is to help them go from victim to survivor," Gayden said. "Because when they first come in, they are victims and don't know what to do -- they are blaming themselves. Once we work with them, we're hoping they can go out and be survivors -- 'OK, this happened to me but it didn't break me.'"

In order to improve their services, Wynn said she hopes sexual assault survivors participate in the 2014 Survivor Experience Survey, which was created by the Defense Manpower Data Center and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office.

According to DMDC, participation is voluntarily and those qualified to take the survey include current military members who are 18 years old and older. Whether or not you have a restricted or unrestricted report of sexual assault, as long as the report was made after Oct. 1, 2013, you are eligible to take the survey. For questions regarding taking the survey, contact your SARC or the Survey Processing Center at (800) 881-5307.

Fort Belvoir's SHARP office also has SHARP annual refresher training 8-11 a.m. every second Thursday of the month for Soldiers and civilians.

For SHARP help, call the 24/7 Helpline at (703) 740-7029. For more information or questions, contact the SHARP office at (703) 805-4718/4352/4722.

Related Links: North America News Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention and Response Program