The first-ever SHARP Academy Professional Forum was held at the Lewis and Clark Center on Fort Leavenworth last week. The conference brought together military and universities to share lessons learned when addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention and response.

"I'm very impressed with the fact that we're collaborating with universities," said Monique Ferrell, director of the U.S. Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program Office. "We have a very similar audience in the 18- to 24-year-old age group. I hope we have a good exchange of ideas -- what are they doing that we can leverage and what we are doing that they can leverage from us."

The forum was planned and executed by the SHARP Academy, which trains victim advocates and sexual assault response coordinators for the entire Department of the Army. After a short welcome by Col. Catlett, director of the SHARP Academy, the forum kicked off with an update on U.S. Army SHARP from Ferrell.

"I'm proud to say we are making progress in this space," Ferrell said. "We have supporting data that we are making progress in terms of reducing the number of cases of sexual assaults in the Army. That being said, we have a lot of work to do. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We've achieved some momentum and we're trying to sustain it."

Ferrell, who has only been at her post for approximately eight months, spoke of two areas where her organization is seeing issues that she plans to address.

"We have gaps in the program, and we're going to fill those gaps," Ferrell said. "For example, we don't have a specified program that addresses male assault; so, we're developing that. Another issue that came out of last year's annual report was retaliation. This is not just an Army issue; it's across the whole Department of Defense. I'm a member of an IPT (Integrated Planning Team) at DOD level that's working to develop a retaliation prevention and response strategy."

Additionally, Ferrell said prevention will be a major focus for her team going forward. The U.S. Army SHARP Program Office plans to achieve this by working closer with supervisors who work directly with the junior-enlisted Soldiers and entry-level civilians.

"We've have a great response strategy," Ferrell said. "We know what to do when Soldiers and Civilians are assaulted and give them the best care they need. What I'm going to focus on for the next few years is developing a holistic prevention strategy. We're really trying to engage our first-line leaders -- squad leaders and first-line supervisors -- to help us get after this, because they touch Soldiers and Civilians within their space every day. They are the ones who can see when things are starting to develop and help us -- hopefully -- prevent it."

The main theme for the event was "Culture Change," and the key note speaker's presentation reflected this theme well. Bette Inch, senior victim assistance advisor at the Department of Defense SHARP Office, used a starfish metaphor to highlight five different points of entry into having long-term, permanent culture change in the military -- sports, government, private organizations, academia and entertainment/arts.

"We're talking about a national movement in this area," Inch said. "We are collaborating with our Civilian and Federal partners to try to affect change across the whole country. The most important thing to know about sexual assault response and prevention as a whole is that it's really about taking care of people. It's about preventing this from occurring in the first place, and -- then when it does occur -- providing a quality response that's victim focused. We have response personnel out there that are fully trained and capable to perform that vital service."

Other speakers at the forum included three cadet representatives from the United States Military Academy's Cadets Against Sexual Harassment-Assault program, and Dr. Janet K. Jones, cadet command sexual harassment and assault response program manager.

The conference wrapped up with the "Prevention & Response Discussion Panel," which was comprised of Carol Haig from Sexual Assault Medical Management, Office of the U.S. Army Surgeon General; Laurie Barone, Combined Arms Center SHARP program manager; Capt. Sarah Green, special victim counsel at Fort Riley; Misty Kay Campbell from the Metro Organization to Counter Sexual Assault in Kansas City, Mo.; Dr. Pamela J. Foster, EO director and Title IX coordinator at Washburn University; Sgt. Mike Seward, supervisor of the Sex Crimes Section of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department; Myles Perry, assistant prosecuting attorney at the Platte County Prosecutor's Office; and Donna Ferguson, Behavioral Analysis & Research, Chief Behavioral Sciences Education & Training Division at the Military Police School.

"I hope one of the outcomes that participants of the conference come away with is a better awareness and knowledge of where we are and where we are going with the program," Ferrell said. "There is no place in our Army for sexual harassment and sexual assault. We consider it a threat to readiness and because of that it's a very high priority for all the leadership of the Army. We need a culture change in our Army, but at the core of this, we expect everyone to treat everyone with dignity and respect."