SHARP program manager receives award for 'bystander intervention' training

By J.D. LeipoldNovember 13, 2014

SHARP program manager receives award for 'bystander intervention' training
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 12, 2014) -- Chief Warrant Officer 5 Debra Blankenbaker not only earned the Army's Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award, she also received the Defense Department's award for the "bystander intervention" training program she developed.

Blankenbaker serves with the 7th Civil Support Command, in Kaiserslautern, Germany, as her unit's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, program manager, and as a sexual assault response coordinator, or SARC, for almost 1,000 Soldiers, their families and civilians.

She conceived the idea for bystander intervention training when the Army started giving Soldiers scenario-based requirements as part of the SHARP program, she said.

"This is about how to effectively and safely intervene," Blankenbaker noted, adding that she had done research about the problem of sexual assault on college campuses. "We adopted the program developed by Arizona State called "Step Up," and in their training they did the very thing I was just speaking of.

"They not only taught the students how to become more aware of circumstances, but they also were teaching them how to safely intervene and not put themselves or the possible victim in harm's way," she continued.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are not one in the same, said Blankenbaker, but explained studies have shown about 90 percent of sexual assault cases actually started with harassment. It was just never addressed, and escalated to sexual assault. That's where her 16 trained SHARP coordinators have been a huge help.

"We've got a comfort zone and developed a trust with our Soldiers in the program," she said. "We've had a couple of interventions on possible harassment and because we handled them at that level, they did not escalate to assault."

To bring the message to people that it's not acceptable to turn a back any longer when witness to harassment, Blankenbaker participates in community events to raise awareness and educate on prevention.

She's also been a consultant on the creation of several Armed Forces Network public service announcements that drive home the point with "statistics about unreported cases and cases that could have been brought to adjudication if someone had just gotten involved and helped."

Blankenbaker has written articles for the command newsletter, providing parents with additional topics to discuss with their children, such as the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch, respect for boundaries and personal space and what does and doesn't constitute consent.

"Our next initiative coming out is an application for Smartphones for SHARP in Europe," she said. "Those apps will let someone who's been assaulted know with two clicks who to call instead of trying to remember a phone number with something as traumatic as sexual assault… it will bring up a GPS location and tell them where the closest on-call SHARP counselor is."

Blankenbaker is an Active Guard Reserve Soldier on her 22nd year of active duty, out of the Army Reserve. She also serves as command chief warrant officer for the 7th Civil Support Command.

Related Links:

Army News Service

More Army News Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program news

STAND-TO!: Sexual Harassment/Assault Prevention

U.S. Army Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program

DOD Safe Helpline: (877) 995-5247