SHARP app puts help in Soldiers' hands

By Noelle WieheDecember 2, 2014

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FORT BENNING, Ga., (Dec. 3, 2014) -- A new app has launched which makes speaking up about suicide and sexual assault for Department of Defense civilians, Soldiers and dependents of Soldiers easier than ever before.

The Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention WeCare app is a mobile application developed for the Army by the Technology Integration Branch and Sustainment Center of Excellence mobile team. The app supplies users with hotline numbers, links and manuals to aid in seeking support during a difficult time, whether it is a suicidal situation or case of sexual assault.

"Everyone uses their phone and everyone says 'hey, we've got an app for that;' well, now, you've got an app for help," said Sgt. 1st Class Susana Polynice, 316th Cavalry Brigade Sexual Assault Response coordinator.

The app is available for Android and iPhone systems and offers such hotlines as the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline and the DoD Safe Helpline. Within the app, there is tab for the Fort Benning Chaplain's number and a number for the Martin Army Community Hospital. Several other numbers are listed and upon tapping the name of any given hotline, a pop-up with the number appears.

Master Sgt. Shaylon Fleming-Tarver, Maneuver Center of Excellence Installation Sexual Assault Response coordinator, said the presence of all those resources in one app is very beneficial.

"The app is universal in the fact that it can assist those who are victims of

sexual assault or harassment, or witness sexual assault or harassment and anyone

who may need suicide prevention assistance," Fleming-Tarver said. "It is an additional awareness tool to ensure anyone needing help can easily contact (SHARP)."

Previously, SHARP relied on banners on websites and on bridges to spread the word about their services.

"Realistically, how many Soldiers do log on to their computer every day? How many Soldiers do actually go through and do pay attention to the stuff?" Polynice said. "Now, it's readily available at your hands, that's the great thing about it."

An important number found on the app is the SHARP Hotline. Polynice said the hotline connects to a SARC and the line is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Within the SHARP program are SARCs, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, and VAs, victim advocates, assigned to each brigade.

"It is our full-time duty; we don't do anything else besides that," Polynice said.

SHARP also works directly with off-post services, Polynice said, such as the Russell County Rape Crisis Center and the Columbus and Russell County police departments.

"We understand that sexual assaults don't just happen here on post -- in the barracks, in housing -- it happens off post, as well," Polynice said. "So, we have that big team pretty much set up so we can respond as quickly as possible to any victims."

The SHARP program follows a process, which the WeCare app makes much more efficient. If a situation arises, a person would pull up the app and tap to call the appropriate hotline to address their crisis. Polynice said first and foremost, the SARC would make sure the individual is safe. This assurance is followed by a description of their location and setting up a meet-up point. Polynice said most often, a SARC would meet the victim at the hospital in case a sexual assault forensic exam is needed.

From there, paperwork is done including a victim preference statement as to whether they'd like to file a restricted or unrestricted report. Polynice said a restricted report allows the individual to get help without involving the police or their chain of command, while unrestricted does involve them and an official investigation.

Polynice said that with all of the training going on around post, they are seeing a higher number of unrestricted reports than restricted.

"I think (the reason) is having the support and showing Soldiers it is OK to get the help that you need, which this app obviously shows them you can get help whether it be suicide, sexual assault, you name it," Polynice said.

Polynice said everyone from DA civilians working on post to Soldiers and their dependents should download the app.

"I remember back when I was a Soldier in the barracks, I would still help out my battle buddies," she said. "If we had this, I would have had the help to offer right then and there."

The WeCare app can be download by searching for "WeCare app, Fort Benning," in the Apple iTunes App Store or Google Android Market. An installation-specific app is available for several other Army installations, including Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Gordon, Georgia and Fort Bliss, Texas.