ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- A total of about 180 Army personnel attended two separate "Got Your Back Training" sessions for preventing sexual violence in Heritage Hall, here, March 23. The training was a part of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
Courtney Abbott and George Zerante, senior educators from Catharsis Productions, co-presented the session. Catharsis is an organization based in Chicago that educates military personnel, college students and corporate employees across the country and internationally about sexual violence and prevention.
"This is all about your role to be a part of the solution," said Scott Welker, deputy to the commander, Joint Munitions Command, while he introduced the speakers. "Like it or not, [sexual harassment and sexual assault] happens every day across the Army and our communities. We need you to be a part of the solution."
Catharsis uses research, charismatic speakers, honesty and even humor to address the sensitive topic of sexual assault, its website states.
Following a short introduction, Abbott and Zerante started their presentation with a discussion about language. They said negative language about sex can be disempowering for both men and women. They said negative language can result in a hostile environment that might empower sexual predators.
"We want you to challenge this language not because it hurts people's feelings, but because it gives rapists a place to hide," said Zerante. "It keeps survivors away from getting help, and it keeps bystanders from stepping in to give someone help when they need it."
Abbott also said she thinks it is important for people to openly talk about positive sexuality to prevent harmful misconceptions.
"Very rarely do we talk about positive sexuality in the context of how to prevent sexual violence," said Abbott. "If we can't talk about positive sex, we'll have a vacuum, and we know the young folks of the world are going to fill that vacuum with information they get somewhere else," like other kids, television and online media.
Zerante said people sometimes dismiss rape as simply "bad hookups" because they are afraid to admit that there is a rapist in the community. The presenters said the difference between the two is that bad hookups are disappointing, and rape lacks consent.
They also addressed the contentious issue of consent involving alcohol. Abbott said it is perfectly reasonable to believe that responsible adults can drink some alcohol and still have consensual sex. She said alcohol becomes a problem when it is used as a tool for rape.
"Alcohol is the gun of the acquaintance rapist," she said, referring to the myth that rapists are strangers "with hoodies and guns, hiding in the bushes."
Abbott and Zerante also discussed the steps that they said rapists take when they are targeting their victims.
"We need to understand the enemy's tactics in order to interrupt what they are doing," said Abbott.
They said that, according to research based on interviews with rapists, rapists first target the most vulnerable people they see. They said rapists can do so anywhere, but most frequently they target people at bars and parties. They said rapists then try to "groom" their targets and bystanders by instilling false trust, and by increasing the vulnerability of their targets. Following this, they said, rapists isolate themselves with the victim.
Abbott and Zerante emphasized that it is possible to interrupt rapists' tactics. They said those who are suspicious of someone could approach the person directly, they could distract the person, or they can delegate the task to someone in a better position to interrupt by asking for help.
The presenters also discussed what they called the "delayed response." This involves listening to survivors, offering them resources, and being present for those in need of support.
"When someone comes forward after the fact, how they are received speaks volumes," said Abbott.
The event counted is an alternative to the annual online SHARP part two training that is required by the Army.
Bill Howard, SHARP program manager for the U.S. Army Sustainment Command and RIA, said he thought the in-person training was preferable to the online training.
"You get more insight into what other people are thinking than just sitting there at a computer," he said.
Capt. Michael Rear, commandant, ASC Headquarters and Headquarters Company, said he enjoyed the training.
"Compared to online training, it was much more entertaining," he said. "It had really good instructors who were able to engage the crowd."
Howard reminded the audience that April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. He encouraged them to attend upcoming events.
Catharsis held two more training sessions on March 24.