FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- The Army is in the midst of a major culture change as it strives to eliminate sexual assault from its ranks.
But sexual assault isn't the problem, it's a symptom, according to Russell Strand, chief of the U.S. Army Military Police School's Behavioral Sciences Education & Training Division and keynote speaker at the U.S. Army Hawaii and U.S. Army-Pacific SHARP Summits, which were held at the Hale Ikena and the Sgt. Richardson Theater, June 24-26.
"The problem is much deeper," he told his audience. "The problem is respect. If we really understood respect the way we're supposed to understand respect, we wouldn't have sexual assaults (in the Army)."
He shared an anecdote about a battalion commander who reprimanded a female Soldier in front of her company because other Soldiers had complained that she was having consensual sex in the barracks. The next day (the female Soldier) reported being raped, but the battalion commander considered it a false report because she'd reported it after he'd warned her about her behavior, and it was obvious to him that she was trying to deny responsibility for her actions.
"I said (to the battalion commander), 'Did it ever dawn upon you that maybe the sex offender in that unit heard you (reprimand the Soldier in front of her company) and now got a green light?'" Strand recalled. "Then I asked him, 'How did (the female Soldier) react when she got her reprimand?' He said she was pissed. I asked how the men in the unit reacted when they received their reprimands. He said, 'What are you talking about?
They didn't do anything wrong.'"
Strand also pointed out that last year 37 percent of the suspects in the Army's sexual assault crimes were noncommissioned officers and commissioned officers.
"It's not privates. It's also (sergeants major) and colonels and generals and majors and lieutenants and captains and (sergeants 1st class) and staff sergeants," he said. "Have we got the message across? Not to 37 percent who sit in forums like this and shake their heads and say yes and move on through."
These stories emphasized Strand's larger point that no one can predict with certainty who will commit rape, nor can anyone know for sure how a victim of rape will behave. Yet, many of us harbor stereotypes and biases that may perpetuate an unsafe environment and a culture of violence.
Those biases reveal themselves when those who report being sexually assaulted are asked if they had been drinking prior to the assault, if they had attempted to fight off their attacker, if they accepted a ride home with their attacker. They reveal themselves when women are called derogatory names and men feel that speaking up is a sign of weakness.
"All of us have biases that are shaped by our experiences and the media," he said. "Some are accurate and helpful; others are inaccurate and harmful. We should seek to educate ourselves, consistently examine our biases and keep an open mind with the mindset that there is far more that we don't know and act accordingly."
He said the Army has made tremendous strides in addressing sexual assaults, but has a long way to go.
"The Army can change its culture," he said. "It is changing its culture, but we are not going to know culture change in the midst of it. We are only going to know it on the other side."
The next hill to take, he said, is increasing awareness of male-on-male sexual assault and ensuring that male Soldiers who report being sexually assaulted are treated with dignity and respect, and supported by their leadership and peers.
Strand's presentation was backed up by his 36 years of research and experience in the fields of law enforcement and investigation. He responded to the 2009 mass shooting in Fort Hood, Texas, where he provided critical incident and trauma-victim interview support.
He was inducted into the Army Military Police Hall of Fame in 2011, received the 2012 End Violence Against Women International Visionary Award and was featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary "The Invisible War" about sexual assault in the military.
Maj. Gen. Charles Flynn, USARHAW senior commander, who attended Strand's presentation and also spoke at the USARHAW SHARP Summit, said he found Strand's findings to be eye-opening -- particularly the statistic of 37 percent of sexual assault suspects being officers and NCOs.
"These are (Soldiers) who we're promoting," Flynn said, adding that that needed to change.
Flynn set a high standard for USARHAW, telling the audience of battalion and brigade leaders, "We are raising the bar, and we will jump higher. The bar should be zero incidents (of sexual assault). That may be aspirational, as we're all humans, but this has to be the goal."