FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- "Our profession is built on the bedrock of trust; sexual assault and sexual harassment betray that trust. They have a corrosive effect on our unit readiness, team cohesion, good order and discipline. We are entrusted with ensuring the health and welfare of America's sons and daughters. There are no bystanders in this effort. Our Soldiers, their families, and the American people are counting on us to lead the way in solving this problem within our ranks," said Gen. Raymond Odierno, (former) Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army.
U.S. Army Special Operations Command's view on sexual assault and sexual harassment is no different from Odierno's; there is no place for it in the command or the Army. In order to prepare USASOC SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) representatives to prevent and combat sexual assault and sexual harassment within the command, the trainers themselves receive specialized instruction through coordinated workshops.
"This workshop was from the 16th of Nov through the 20th, and it was an opportunity for SHARP representatives across the command and some from other units on Fort Bragg, to get the necessary training to retain their credentials as is required," said Sgt. 1st Class Rosy Evelyn, USASOC SHARP representative and lead coordinator for the workshop.
According to Evelyn, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC) and Victim Advocate (VA) representatives are required to attend a either a 2-week SHARP course (for unit-level) or a 7-week SHARP Academy (for brigade level or higher) based on their assigned position.
In order to retain their position as SARCs and VAs, they must credential through the National Organization for Victim Assistance, which is then good for two years.
"After the two years expire, they have to complete 32 'Continued Education Units (CEUs) in order for them to retain their credentials as SARCs or VAs," Evelyn said. "So we sent our agenda to NOVA and HRC SHARP and got approved for 31.75 of the required 32 CEUs."
"We accomplished in one week what would normally take up to two years to put together," she said. "The focus of this workshop was to increase awareness of male-on-male violence within the military."
Although the specific focus of this particular workshop was male-on-male violence, the workshops are an important part of the bigger plan; to ultimately stop and prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military altogether.
"The bottom line for USASOC and the Army is to increase mission readiness of all troops. When a man or Woman is sexually victimized, every aspect of his/her ability to be mission-ready is significantly compromised," said Dr. Howard Fradkin, psychologist, author and co-founder of MaleSurvivor: The National Organization Against Male Sexual Victimization. "It is my hope that these workshops help all personnel to be more sensitive and aware of the struggles of Soldiers who are sexually victimized, empowers the victims to get the help they need, and empowers leadership to create an environment where sexual offending behaviors--in the forms of rape, sexual harassment, and hazing-- are all significantly decreased and eventually eliminated."
Fradkin was invited to a USASOC SHARP workshop event to speak specifically about male victims. The title of his discussion was "Breaking the Silence: Healing the Shame of Male Survivors of Sexual Trauma in the Military."
"The military has made a clear priority to address the needs of male rape victims. This training focused on male on male rape, sexual harassment and hazing in the military, as well as female on male rape. I also discussed the impact of men who enter the military with a history of sexual abuse."
According to his discussion and studies (based on RAND's published estimates), male victims of sexual assault in the military outnumber female victims 60% to 40% respectively. Approximately one in 12 men in the Army experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination in 2014, however, males are reportedly less likely to report these incidents.
"It is extremely difficult for men who are victimized in the Army to come forward, because of fears of being stigmatized, not believed, being seen as weak or gay, experiencing retaliation, reprisal or discharge from the Army. Many men reported they had heard of negative consequences of men who found the courage to come forward," Fradkin said.
These types of offenses can carry massive consequences, and severely impact the Army and individual unit's abilities to function properly and successfully carry out their missions. Fradkin notes that typically, even combat experiences don't affect a Soldier's state of mind on the same scale as sexual trauma.
"Sexual trauma is much more damaging to a soldier's psyche and mental health and much more likely to cause PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) than combat (65% to 38.8%)," Fradkin said. "Sexual trauma causes many long lasting problems: impaired functioning, and diminished mission readiness; depression, anxiety, difficulties with trust, impaired ability to form healthy friendships and intimate relationships, suicidality, increased vulnerability to use addictive/compulsive behaviors to deal with the pain and the shame."
With these important issues addressed during the November 2015 SHARP Professional Development Workshop, the aim was to increase awareness and incite change within the command.
"I was very impressed with the serious commitment by Ft. Bragg leadership to address this issue," he said.
"It is important to have (this kind of) training available for soldiers and officers at every rank. When I presented this workshop in Vicenza, Italy, the Army base there also paid to bring a panel of 3 male survivors of sexual assault in the military which was a very powerful and moving addition to the presentation," he said. "We have a number of men who are willing to tell their stories because they want these assaults to end."
For questions about USASOC's SHARP, SARC, or VA programs please contact the USASOC SHARP office at (910) 432-0248.