FORT KNOX, Kentucky (April 6, 2015) -- When Master Sgt. Johnnie Garcia departs U.S. Army Human Resources Command this month she will leave with a sense of accomplishment tempered by a certain wistfulness.
Having stood up and managed HRC's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, program for the past four years, Garcia will move on just as the Army awaits the release of a standalone Army SHARP regulation that will consolidate lessons learned over the past several years.
"I'm not so excited to leave the SHARP program because I still feel there is so much to do and I so wanted to be there to see the end state. We have made a lot of changes since it started in regards to policy," Garcia said.
Just the same, she can look back on a chapter in her career that includes establishing SHARP at HRC and extending a level of support and protection to victims that simply was not there when she started.
For example, Garcia pointed to the introduction of the SAFE helpline, an 800 number available to anybody who has been a victim of sexual assault. SAFE allows victims or witnesses to report incidents of retaliation anonymously without compromising their reporting options.
She said it is a major step forward that has opened "an avenue for individuals to be able to report retaliation, even if there is no report yet. They don't feel safe in reporting this crime because there is nothing in line that will prevent them from being hurt or retaliated against."
It is but one example of profound changes the Army, and society at large, have undergone regarding rape, violence and victim's rights during her time at HRC, Garcia said.
"I think that we have come now from blaming the victim to actually believing the victim. And with believing the victim it becomes a little more real for us, us meaning leaders and individuals," she said.
"I've seen it. I see a huge difference in how we deal with the whole SHARP program," said Col. Ardis Porter, HRC deputy chief of staff.
"Normally the victims were just kind of left out there. It happened, a case worker does an intake, the CID officer does his report, and the Army [was] kind of hands off of it. But now, the Army is hands around it and does everything possible to support the person," he said.
"You have to understand that most of these cases are not only cases that are happening within the military," Garcia explained. "These are cases that have happened to people even prior to them joining. And then some older cases, where they were sexually assaulted when they came in the Army initially."
The shift from blaming to believing the victim has coincided with an increase in reporting.
"And I think it was because there was a lack of the availability of a program that has a database of record," Garcia said. "So if I report it, what does it matter? Where is it going to go? Unless I report it through CID. But now because we have options where you can say, I am going to report it but it doesn't have to be investigated, but it will still go in that database of record. Back then, if you didn't report it openly, where would they house all that information?" she asked.
Now those reports will remain on file for 50 years and provide a foundation for victims seeking help, no matter when they are capable of reaching out for it. And that will have a beneficial impact on their access to benefits and services, Garcia noted.
"Now when you get out of the Army we have sources like the VA that have specialized counselors that deal with military sexual trauma," she said. "Not only do we deal with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], but PTSD as it is related to military sexual trauma. And now with there being a database of record, service members, or now veterans, will be able to prove or have some kind of substantiating evidence that they were victims of these crimes.
"So people are feeling more empowered about reporting because there are so many more resources available, both internally and externally. Now when I get out of the military I'll have additional help, I won't be out there alone trying to figure out where I'm going to get money to pay for additional counseling. Now the VA has support groups and can handle it," said Garcia.
The upcoming consolidation of policy, practice and resources through a SHARP-specific Army regulation will mark a watershed for the program's acceptance and a recognition of its effectiveness across the Army, she said.
"The director, Ms. Ferrell (Army SHARP director Monique Ferrell), understands and realizes, based on feedback from the field, that we have information spread out all over the place. She knows there's a need to develop a single avenue for sourcing information. She understands there's a need for that.
"So the draft is out there. I've seen it, it looks great. At my level I've been asked to give input in regard to some of the things I saw in there. So we've now given our input, it is up for revision, and there is a finished draft out there now just waiting for approval," Garcia said.
The regulation is expected to be published by the end of the present fiscal year. Regardless of its positive impact, the fundamental power behind the SHARP program continues to be focusing on the need of individuals.
"The most important part of the whole process is belief. And we continue to try to instill that in leaders. That if you don't do anything, if you just believe them and support them, it's a much smoother transition for the victim and for the leadership," said Garcia.
"This is my first true involvement with SHARP on an ongoing basis and I tell you, it is eye-opening," said Porter. "We have made a lot of progress with it and obviously one [case] is too many … but it is encouraging to know that we are doing everything possible to communicate no tolerance for it at all in this organization."