The throng of people who nearly packed a theater at Fort Eustis, Virginia, on Oct. 30, 2015, to hear a general provide an update on the Department of Defense sexual assault policy may have only expected that. But they got more than a policy update -- they also got an inspirational supplication to embrace the military profession.
Seconds before the director of the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office entered Wylie Theater, her strong and warm voice floated across the crowd, as she stopped to thank a few folks outside. Heads started to turn, and eyes followed the diminutive general as she made her way down the aisle, engaging with the crowd.
Only mere minutes into her presentation, Maj. Gen. Camille M. Nichols pulled no punches with the crowd, largely made up of Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program and SAPR professionals.
"My discussion today is not about sexual assault. It's about our profession."
Nichols references the military profession, where military and civilians serve together within a culture of trust. Military organizations must set the conditions for an ideal place where people want to serve safely and securely, she said.
"We collectively can fix this problem. I honestly believe that just like every other hurdle we've overcome, we can, in fact, have the profession that we want," Nichols said.
Nichols has personally witnessed various challenges the military has overcome during her 40-year career, and believes that conquering sexual assault will happen. And while the military has made great strides to combat this crime, there's much more work to be done such as not being bystanders and looking the other way.
"The actual crime is just an aberration," Nichols said. "The fact that it exists in our ranks is our fault, to have allowed it, and to create an environment for it. And so it's our responsibility to change it."
The way to get at it is much more than annual SHARP training -- which she believes can be refined further, looking at better ways to facilitate training on such a sensitive subject. It's leveraging other risk reduction programs, such as family advocacy and substance abuse.
"It is a confluence of bad behaviors that we have to get after," Nichols said. "Eliminating vulnerable areas, allowing them to act vulnerably.
"I don't want to necessarily report another sexual assault, I want to get that person care. I want to shape the environment so that it doesn't happen to someone else."
Nichols was appointed the DoD SAPRO director in June 2015. The SAPRO provides oversight of DoD's sexual assault program, working closely with the Services and civilian community to develop and implement innovative prevention and response programs.
The community of SHARP and SAPR professionals is made up of sexual assault response coordinators and SAPR victim advocates, who provide victim support, response and reporting options. But their role is more than just "reacting" -- they serve in a proactive role as well.
Nichols reminded the gathering of that, urging them to do "terrain walks" in the various work centers and engage in dialogue with the troops. In other words, demonstrate social courage and safely correct harmful behavior.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Nichols besought the crowd.
"I honestly believe it is my duty to change our profession for the better, and I need all of you in our community to help me do that. Can you help me do that?"
As part of her update, Nichols outlined the SAPR strategic plan, lines of effort and objectives, which was updated and reissued in 2013 to better achieve purpose and unity of effort across the Services. The strategic plan can be accessed on the SAPRO website at www.sapr.mil.
She also discussed current DoD focus areas in SAPR:
1. Address retaliation against reporters of sexual assault
2. Enhance focus on reporting and assistance for male victims
3. Operationalize the DoD prevention strategy
(Nichols' visit to Fort Eustis was hosted by U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Anthony C. Funkhouser. Funkhouser is also the executive agent for U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command's SHARP program, and Joint Base Langley-Eustis senior commander, Army element.)
Affected by sexual assault? The DoD Safe Helpline provides five ways to receive help. Each way is anonymous, secure and available around the clock: Call 877-995-5247, text 55-247, click www.safehelpline.org to receive online help or to enter a safe and secure help room, or download a self-care app on your mobile device by searching "Safe Helpline App" in the mobile device's app store.