By Timothy HaleApril 2, 2015
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, every 107 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted.
In Fiscal Year 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, said there were 6,862 reported cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. Males accounted for 17.5 percent of those filing complaints.
Despite these numbers, there appears to be a new trend developing - more victims are willing to come forward and report an incident.
It doesn't matter whether you are a Soldier, Army civilian, female, or male, you could be a victim of sexual harassment or assault. In the event you are a victim of harassment or assault, do you know what steps you need to take to report an incident?
The answer depends on whether you are a Soldier or civilian, and whether it is sexual harassment or sexual assault.
A Changing Culture
According to recent active Army and Army Reserve reports, reported cases of sexual assault are on the rise. Army figures show a 51 percent increase in reported sexual assault cases since Fiscal Year 2012 - 2,149 in Fiscal Year 2013, and 1,423 in Fiscal Year 2012.
In the Army Reserve, there were 152 reported sexual assaults in Fiscal Year 2014, up from 87 in Fiscal Year 2013, and significantly more than the 22 cases reported in Fiscal Year 2012.
Army Reserve Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention officials and Staff Judge Advocate lawyers at the U.S. Army Reserve Command headquarters, here, say this increase in reported cases is encouraging.
"From our perspective, there doesn't seem to be an increase in the number of sexual assaults occurring," said Lt. Col. William Stephens, U.S. Army Reserve Command deputy staff judge advocate. "Instead, it seems to be an increase in reporting and comfort in reporting."
Stephens said the many sexual assault cases that are reported are not recent cases. He said the assault could have occurred from anywhere to three to 15 years ago.
Which begged the question, why wait so long to report an assault?
"The victim controls the time they feel comfortable in reporting the actual assault," Stephens said. "We are seeing reporting along with other aspects. For example, a Line of Duty being done in conjunction with an injury, or a psychological issue associated with an actual assault, or as part of out-processing or separation. The question is typically asked, 'Have you been a victim of sexual assault?'"
Stephens attributes this willingness to come forward due to higher command attention as well as the emphasis through SHARP and other awareness programs and campaigns.
SHARP or EEO?
By their definitions, SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) and EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) are often confused with each other.
According to the SHARP Guidebook (October 2013), "Sexual harassment and sexual assault have often been found to be interrelated and to exist along a continuum of sexual violence in which acts of sexual harassment, if unchecked, may lead to acts of sexual assault."
Lt. Col. Lynn F. Wood, the U.S. Army Reserve Command SHARP program director, said a Soldier who is either sexually harassed or assaulted would report the incident to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, or SARC, or Victim Advocate, or VA, in their unit.
"Everything in SHARP has to be tailored to what the victim wants and what they are comfortable with," Wood said. "Ultimately, it's the victim that starts the reporting process, but it's the leadership, SARC and VA that must drive the complaint progress to be handled ethically, timely, and efficiently."
Wood did say there are still some instances of reprisal against those who come forward but many unit leaders are doing a better job in stopping such practices.
"If you have a chain of command that is absolutely making sure that offenders are held accountable, and everybody in the unit sees this climate happening, it is going to drive an accurate and healthy reporting process," Wood said.
By contrast, Army civilians who are sexually assaulted should report the incident to local law enforcement. Civilians who are victims of sexual harassment should report the incident to EEO, said Sue Bickford, U.S. Army Reserve EEO director at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
Bickford said discrimination cases that her office handles fall into one of nine protected bases: race, color, sex, age (over 40), religion, national origin, disability, genetic information, and reprisal.
"Civilians are entitled to work in an environment that is free from discrimination of any kind," Bickford said. "Sexual harassment would be a type of discrimination that a person could come to our office for and we could process a complaint."
As opposed to units that may have a SARC or VA, there is only one EEO office in the Army Reserve and it is located at Fort McCoy.
However, Bickford said that doesn't hamper the reporting process. She said victims could notify her staff via phone or email. In addition, there are collateral duty counselors across the Army Reserve.
"We currently have 211 collateral duty EEO counselors," she said. "They work at their normal job at the various units, they are trained by us to become certified EEO counselors, and they work as a bridge between the commands and our office."
SHARP Summit 2015
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno hosted a SHARP Summit in February where a number of topics were discussed to raise awareness and prevention of sexual assault and harassment.
One topic of discussion during the summit was ensuring that bystanders protect victims.
During a panel discussion in front of general officers, victims shared their experiences. They said they often faced "disbelief and retaliation from others" after reporting an incident.
According to an Army.mil article by David Vergun, Odierno said that there is more confidence in reporting sexual harassment and assault, "... challenges still remain, and the predators need to become the pariah, not the victim."
Odierno added there are noncommissioned and commissioned officers "who still don't know what behavior is acceptable and what is not. The changing culture needs to begin with them and there needs to be conversations about it all the way down to the lowest levels."
One female victim summed up her rape by a fellow Soldier. Her leaders' lack of action led to the Soldier raping three other women before he was arrested and sentenced to 35-years in prison.
The takeaway from all this is that "as leaders you have to protect the victims and follow through with an investigation, even when it's your buddy," she said, adding that it's especially hard because there is "a human tendency to want to side with those who you respect and serve with -- sweep it under the rug."
James B. Balocki, U.S. Army Reserve command executive officer, said that sexual harassment and sexual assault is "... a fundamental breakdown in trust. Trust between the two employees and, depending on how the organization reacts, the potential for loss of trust in the organization and its leaders in taking care of it and remedying the situation."
From a legal standpoint, leaders who fail to act on a complaint could be held accountable.
"Every supervisor (military or civilian) on their support form and their appraisal there is a 'support for EEO' on the rating," said Tim Johnson, a USARC Staff Judge Advocate labor counselor. "I know that I have recommended that supervisors should be checked as 'Failed' in that area because of circumstances like this."
He cited a case where a general officer did not receive their second star because they failed to uphold SHARP/EEO policies within the organization.
"They were not effective in stopping harassment," Johnson said.
If left unchecked by supervisors, instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault can be disruptive in the workplace - and not just for the victim.
According to the article "A Review of Organizational Strategies for Reducing Sexual Harassment: Insights from the U.S. Military," published in the "Journal of Social Issues," Vol. 70, No.4, studies have shown that sexual harassment in the workplace causes the victims to have decreased work performance and commitment to their organization, withdrawal, turnover, and conflicts within their team.
These can also lead to monetary losses for the organization.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center cited a 1994 U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board study that showed, "...the cost of sexual harassment in the federal government was an estimated $327 million; this includes the cost of job turnover ($247 million), sick leave taken because of the harassment ($14.9 million, and productivity losses ($287.5 million).
Balocki said the human toll is far more important and far more devastating to the organization.
"It goes back to how the employee believes that the organization is going to respond when faced with an accusation or the reality that another member has potentially violated that particular individual," Balocki said. "It bears a human toll to the individual involved, their psyche, to their willingness to work, to their willingness to even come to work, to their willingness to be a part of the team that they trust to take care of them. It's just devastating on every level."
Reporting Sexual Harassment
If you are sexually harassed, there are time frames for reporting the incident. The reporting window for Soldiers is 60 days and 45 days for civilians.
SHARP and EEO officials said if the harassment continues, whether it is sexual or non-sexual, the clock can potentially reset itself after each incident.
"The idea of the timeline is to keep things fresh, not to have something that happened months ago," Johnson said. "If something is affecting you and this harassment has bothered you, you certainly should get to EEO within 45 days."
However, if a victim opts to not report an incident within 45 days and the harassment continues, the victim can still file a continuing harassment complaint.
"If something started out as sexual harassment and then they (the perpetrator) just become a nasty and difficult person and it's all tied back to that original sexual harassment, that is continuing harassment," he said. "So, every time something happens, it can be considered a new 45-day window. When you file your complaint, you can add all those incidents to provide substance for your claims."
Bickford said that victims don't need to classify their case before going to EEO.
"So they don't have to worry legally about, 'is this sexual harassment, is this non-sexual harassment, is this reprisal?' They just basically come to us and during the process of counseling them, we'll help them through that," Bickford said. "Our specialists here will draft the acceptance or dismissal and it's usually an acceptance."
But Bickford did caution those who choose to file a claim. She said if an aggrieved civilian has exhausted all resources and chooses the formal complaint process, reaching a conclusion could be lengthy.
"The EEO process is a very good process and people should be encouraged, not discouraged, from using it," Bickford said. "But getting into the EEO process can also be very time-consuming and it doesn't always offer a quick resolution. So, we always try to tell people to use alternative dispute resolution at any step in the process before it goes all the way through to a formal adjudication. Try to work things out. If you can't, then can and should certainly go full-scale through this process."
An Inherent Responsibility
Ultimately, Balocki said that leaders must be involved in stopping sexual harassment and sexual assault no matter the size of the organization - from smaller directorates and company level to general officer commands.
He said the size of an organization does not give leaders a free pass to look the other way.
"A leader has an inherent responsibility, when they learn that something wrong has happened inside their organization, to take corrective action to fix it," Balocki said. "While work remains, I have greater confidence that leaders today are taking action to stop sexual harassment and sexual assault."