By Lisa Charles, Manager, Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program, U.S. Army-Hawaii and 25th Infantry Division,January 23, 2015
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- "He would never do that!"
"She's one of our best Soldiers, so she definitely didn't do that."
"The victim must be lying."
For many years, the statements above, among many others involving denial or trivialization, have been echoed by military leadership upon learning about sexual assault or sexual harassment allegations against stellar Soldiers in their ranks.
Leaders have found these allegations to be incredulous. Frankly, it has always been easier to believe a trusted Soldier than one whose credibility is shaky.
Further, a noncredible, troubled Soldier is the perfect target for a predator. Who is more believable if and when the sexual harassment or sexual assault is reported?
To that end, many victims would see the potential for an uphill battle and have instead opted out of making a report and suffered in silence as a result. Those who did muster the courage to report were often lambasted or blamed for it.
"You shouldn't have been there."
"What were you wearing?"
"You were asking for it."
Many were kicked out of the military altogether. It should go without saying that justice for many victims of sexual assault has never existed.
That was then.
The military leaders of today have come full circle. Leaders at all levels are heavily engaged in ensuring their Soldiers know where to go if they experience sexual harassment or have been sexually assaulted.
The fact that leaders are knowledgeable about the programs in place to help their Soldiers has instilled a sense of trust by their Soldiers. The numbers prove it.
The most recent DOD Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military (2013) reflects that the number of reports of sexual assault nearly doubled from 2012. The 2012 report reflected military members made 3,374 reports of sexual assault. In 2013, there were 5,061 reports of sexual assault.
While it may sound counterintuitive to be happy about an increase in reporting, it's actually a good thing. This means service members trust their leadership to believe them enough to report a sexual assault, where before, they did not. We are indeed making strides!
While it may sometimes feel like we are steering a ship in molasses, the culture in the military is indeed changing for the better. True, sexual assaults are still happening at an alarming rate, but more individuals are standing up and being active bystanders, and stopping predators in their tracks.
Bystander intervention is playing a significant role by empowering people and giving them the courage to intervene, act and motivate others to do the right thing.
This directly correlates with the U.S. Army-Hawaii's 4S campaign where everyone is encouraged to "Take a STAND!" against sexual assault/harassment, safety mishaps, suicide and substance abuse. Abiding by the rules, doing the right thing and addressing problems before they escalate are critical in ensuring the mission is achieved. This is how culture change is effectuated.
The four issues mentioned above often overlap, which is why they are combined in this USARHAW awareness campaign. And whether they believe it or not, every single Soldier, civilian and family member is a critical piece of the mission and play a huge role in changing the culture.
Everyone -- Soldier and civilian alike -- has the power to take a stand when they see something happening that shouldn't be.
How will you take a stand?