FORT KNOX, Kentucky (April 19, 2015) -- Since launching its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, program four years ago, U.S. Army Human Resources Command has had an "outside-the-wire" ally in combating sexual assault and advocating for its victims: Silverleaf.
The rape crisis and children's advocacy center in nearby Elizabethtown, Kentucky, provides sexual trauma recovery services across eight counties in north central Kentucky, and because the Army community does not live in a vacuum, Silverleaf has become an essential partner to the Army's SHARP assault response coordinators and advocates.
"I think since we've been trying to extend our outreach efforts, we have seen more individuals from up there, whether they are active duty or whether they are family members," said Silverleaf executive director, Nikki Ellis. "I don't know why we haven't done these outreach opportunities earlier, but certainly it has been a benefit to the community."
"It seems like we work hand in hand together just because of the different areas they specialize in that we're not authorized to advocate for, typically children or dependents," said HRC SHARP program manager, Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Wyatt.
"We can cover all the bases. And I think it's a bridge between the military affiliation and Radcliff and Elizabethtown … with the civilian society," she said.
There are numerous local legal regulations and practices that impact victim advocacy through SHARP, said former HRC SHARP program manager, Master Sgt. Johnnie Garcia. Collegial relations with the Silverleaf staff have opened doors for Fort Knox SHARP practitioners as they negotiate the legal structures outside the Army to render aid to victims.
"The laws have a lot to do with how we handle cases that happen outside of our gates. We have to be very aware of what those laws are in every state in order to be able to find the right resources for that individual, and the right safety and prevention measures. Which can be difficult," she said.
"Unfortunately, SHARP as a whole only reports those sexual assaults that happen to an individual not related to domestic violence," Garcia explained.
Under current law, Silverleaf staff can work with children who have any kind of issue, whether it be abuse, violence or a sexual violation, said Silverleaf therapist Jason Gati. The center also treats adult victims of sexual assault, he said.
"Ireland (the Ireland Army Community Hospital at Fort Knox) does not do children exams," said Garcia. "If a child is suspected to have been sexually abused in any way, there are only two options: the children's hospital in Louisville (Kosair Children's Hospital)" -- or Silverleaf.
The SHARP partnership with Silverleaf took a major step forward when Fort Knox and U.S. Army Cadet Command commander, Maj. Gen. Peggy Combs, learned about their activities, shared goals and interests from Garcia.
"General Combs decided she wanted to see more of them and invited them to the SARB (the monthly Sexual Assault Review Board that meets on Fort Knox) so they can give us pointers also on what prevention should look like … from a civilian standpoint. We can inherit their best practices," she said.
Additionally, Silverleaf provides an invaluable alternative for the military community.
"The Soldier or the family member is not restricted to using only military sources," said Garcia. "They can use Silverleaf as a source for additional counseling, at no cost and anonymously."
"I think that Ms. Garcia has been instrumental in helping us get individuals from the Fort Knox area down here," said Ellis, the center director. "And we are always appreciative of any volunteer, but especially the ones who 'speak the speak' in ways that the rest of us, non-military personnel, we're not able to."
Silverleaf operates with a small, partly volunteer, full-time staff in a difficult fiscal environment. The Fort Knox community, and HRC in particular, have made a significantly positive impact on their ability to deliver services.
"The funding is getting tougher and tougher to get," Gati said. The team appreciates volunteers who perform a variety of support tasks that include manning the 24-hour crisis phone line.
"What we could do with more resources. … No matter how high you climb you can always get better. We've streamlined so much -- like you set over at Fort Knox -- things that nobody knew even existed before, and you've helped to make it common practice," Gati said.
Garcia said she served as a volunteer at Silverleaf throughout her four-year tenure with SHARP at HRC, and Wyatt will shortly begin volunteering there as well.
"I appreciate everybody's interest from Fort Knox. The support that we've received from you guys really has been instrumental and rather surprising, to find a group of people so eager to help us and support us as we are to help you guys. We just really appreciate it," said Ellis.
Anyone interested in contacting Silverleaf, either to get help or to volunteer, can reach them through any SHARP office at Fort Knox, or directly at 270-234-8367.
"Just let me know," said Gati.