FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, April 23, 2015) April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the events during the month bring to light the many issues with sexual assault in our military and civilian society.

This April marks the 11th annual observance. The Army's theme this year is "Not in my Squad. Not in our Army. We are Trusted Professionals."

"We use April to raise awareness of sexual assault," said Lt. Co. Patrick L. Mallett, U.S. Army Special Operations Command's Equal Opportunity Program manager. "It is a crime to assault someone whether it is civilian or military. The Army leads the way making sure its Soldiers and civilians are aware of the Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program."

In a recent 2014 Rand report on Sexual Assault in the Military, awareness of sexual assault has been increasing within the Department of Defense. The DoD is striving to improve this situation, but unique conditions of life in the military may make response to these events more difficult than within the civilian sector.

"In the past, sexual assault conversations did not occur unless you were in a leadership role," said Maria Rizzotto, 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) SHARP victim advocate. "We use events like Denim Day to make everybody aware of sexual assault and its effect in our military environment."

For the past 15 years, Peace Over Violence, a victim advocacy group, has used Denim Day in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The campaign was originally triggered by a ruling from the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped her rapist remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim.

Peace Over Violence started the Denim Day campaign in response to this case and the activism surrounding it. Since then, wearing jeans on Denim Day has become a symbol of protest against erroneous and destructive attitudes about sexual assault.

"Sexual Assault is a very serious problem in our society at large," said Sgt. 1st Class Christine Bowman, the 95th Civil Affairs Brigade (Airborne) sexual assault response coordinator. "The SHARP program is a way to open the dialogue in the military to have those tough conversations about sexual assault. Eliminating sexual assault requires every service member be a steadfast participant in creating an appropriate culture and upholding military core values."

Victims can report sexual assault by calling the Fort Bragg Sexual Assault Hotline at 910-584-4267 or the DoD Safe Helpline at 1-877-995-5247.