By Amy PerryJuly 29, 2016
FORT LEE, Va. (July 28, 2016) -- The second annual Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention summit was held Tuesday-Wednesday in the Army Logistics University multi-purpose rooms.
Leadership teams and victim advocates from various CASCOM and Fort Lee units attended to learn ways to improve command climate in regards to sexual assaults and harassment. Maj. Gen. Darrell K. Williams, CASCOM and Fort Lee commanding general, opened the event and stressed its significance.
"I don't think there's a more important event that we host on Fort Lee every year," he said. "I say that because when you think about sexual harassment and sexual assault in the context of good order and discipline, the reality is you cannot have a great organization that is rampant with sexual harassment and sexual assault issues. The two simply do not go hand and hand."
The Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has several top priorities, said Williams, and among them are readiness and taking care of Soldiers, families and civilians.
"How do you say on one hand that you're going to take care of troops, families and civilians and on the other hand, allow issues like sexual harassment and sexual assault to exist in our organizations?" said Williams. "This is far beyond just our issue; it's about the readiness of the Army, the readiness of our force and it is incompatible with military service as we know it."
Fort Lee also hosted a SHARP summit a year ago, and Williams said he was pleased with the improvement in decreasing the number of sexual harassment and sexual assault cases.
"I issued everyone a challenge to reduce the number of sexual assaults and sexual harassments throughout CASCOM and move in a positive direction," he said. "We didn't want it to be a superficial change, meaning that we could bring down the numbers as they are reported, but if you're stifling victims' opportunity to come forward, then we aren't really accomplishing anything.
"We wanted an environment where people feel extremely comfortable coming to their chain of command to report an incident," Williams continued. "Even with open access, we wanted the number to go down. That would mean our environment is getting better, and by extension, we would have a more healthy command climate."
Williams reviewed the numbers of sexual harassments and assaults from fiscal 2015 and compared them to the numbers so far in fiscal 2016. In fiscal 2015, there were 27 sexual harassment cases -- both formal and informal -- and for this year, there have been six cases.
"We talked about this at the conference last year, and because of your command involvement, leader engagement and innovative programs that you all have started," said Williams, "we have had a 78-percent decrease in sexual harassment thus far."
As for sexual assaults, Williams said he found the fiscal 2015 numbers alarming: there were 79 cases.
"I thought it was counter-intuitive that you would have more sexual assaults than you would have sexual harassment cases," he said. "So, we really tried to get after those cases as well. If you don't deal with sexual harassment, it can lead to sexual assault."
Due to command involvement, Williams said he was happy to announce the numbers went from 79 to 24 in fiscal 2016 so far, representing a 70-percent reduction.
"Now, one case is too many," he said. "But we have to celebrate small victories as well, and we have to use this as an incentive to move forward."
The informal theme is "Sustaining the momentum by adjusting the pendulum," and to reduce the number of assaults to zero -- the ultimate goal -- there needs to be some adjustment to the pendulum, said Williams.
The symposium's events were geared toward that goal -- making changes to reduce sexual harassment and sexual assaults. There were briefings from Maj. Gen. Camille Nichols, director of the Defense Department's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, and the Department of Army G-1 SHARP deputy director Karen Reidenbach.
Special forums about bystander intervention, male victims of sexual assault/victim trauma, and retaliation and justice reports were also among the topics of the day.
To drive the importance of the program home to leaders in the room, a survivors' panel shared their stories from assault to recovery process. The four panel members were Debbie Kilpatrick, a Fort Lee employee from the Directorate of Public Works; Katie Hnida, a civilian advocate; Bianca Myrick, a local teacher from Chesterfield County; and Cpl. Jarett Wright, an infantryman in the Florida National Guard.
Kilpatrick -- who shared her story for the first time in a group setting -- was a former Women's Army Corps member that was one of the first females to transition to the regular Army. Her story began nearly 40 years ago when a local national raped her while she was stationed in Japan.
"I was pulling night guard duty at the ammo depot by myself," she said. "A man climbed over a fence and over the barbed wire and laid a machete on my throat, and I was raped. The case was turned over to the Japanese police. In 1978 and 1979 in Japan, a woman in uniform was asking for it, and there was no protection."
After being taken to the Japanese police station -- while legal services were supposed to go with her, no one did -- she was interrogated for four and a half hours and forced to repeat the story over and over, said Kilpatrick. After being stripped and evidence collected from her body, she was returned to the base and ordered to the legal office.
"He didn't even make eye contact with me," she said. "He was busy packing boxes because our company was being moved from Okinawa. He told me I had two choices: to try and prosecute the individual through the Japanese courts, which could take years, and could face the perpetrator on a daily basis; or take a reassignment to Fort Stewart, Ga., which I did."
The trauma from the event made her scared of the dark and, until recently, she couldn't be in complete darkness and slept with lights on.
"I've spent almost 40 years of my life in and out of counseling," Kilpatrick said. "Can you imagine living with fear every night? Every night when it got dark, I couldn't turn out the light."
Kilpatrick shared several thoughts she wanted the leadership team to take away from the event. Among them was: "Call it rape, not assault; because assault softens the impact of what you've gone through;" and "No victim should have to walk through any door alone."
During the question and answer portion of the presentation, Williams asked each of the panel members to offer a tip for handling victims.
"Unless you know how I feel, don't say 'I know how you feel,'" said Wright. "If you've experienced it, share your story and let them know you're not alone."
"Victims of sexual assault often feel powerless," said Myrick. "Being there to listen is so important. Don't say 'why didn't you tell anyone?' A lot of the time victims feel shame because there's something about sexual assault that makes you feel like you can't tell anyone."
"Letting go of expectations about how you think a survivor should act, feel or behave (is vital) because survivors come out of it in different ways," said Hnida. "Some cry, some don't. I've encountered survivors who are laughing after an assault when they come into the crisis center.
"Another big thing is telling them you believe them," she continued. "As a survivor, one of the scariest things is you're not going to be believed. 'I believe you.' Those words are so powerful."
"As a long-term survivor," Kilpatrick said, "don't expect me to give it up. Don't expect me to move on. It's in my life, for the rest of my life. What can I expect of you is really the question."