WASHINGTON -- The Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program has done a lot of good work responding to sexual assaults, Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning told an audience of more than 100 Army SHARP professionals at the SHARP Program Improvement Forum.
At the event, Wednesday, Sept. 28, which took place just miles from the Pentagon, Fanning added that, while the Army is doing a good job of meeting the needs of victims, it's time to move beyond response and into prevention.
"I feel like we've done a really good job of thinking through and applying resources. But we're not done," he said. "We also need to get focused on getting to the point where we don't need to provide response."
Throughout his career in the Navy, the Air Force, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and now the Army, Fanning said, he has seen how the military has responded to sexual assault.
"I've watched this issue over seven and half years and seen how it's evolved in terms of where we put emphasis, where we put resources, where we've had success," he said.
The Army's SHARP program has always included prevention efforts that, in theory, would preclude the need to respond to sexual assaults if they were 100 percent effective. But Monique Ferrell, the director of the Army's SHARP program, said prevention efforts have been second to response efforts. And now, the Army must double its prevention efforts, and change the nature of them.
"What we know is, we have put a lot of our emphasis on the response to sexual assault," she said. "And our primary focus on prevention has been on training. But training in and of itself is not a strategy. We need more. We are now shifting. We are going to do more things in terms of prevention. Our prevention plan is going to be more of action, versus just education."
Part of that shift, she said, will be figuring out what "perpetrator behavior" looks like, she said.
"We need to do research on that, and to tap into experts," she said. "And then educate the force on that."
Also, she said, there will need to be what she called an "environmental scan." Primary intervention involves looking at the risks, which will vary on the installation, unit makeup, the gender makeup, and other factors. Prevention means first understanding the factors in that environment that can contribute to sexual harassment and sexual assault.
"We need to understand ... those unique attributes, by installation, and help those sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates work with their commanders," she said. "And then [do] what they can do specifically to address those issues, to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment and sexual assault."
Now, she said, the Army is working with the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office on an "installation prevention project." For that, a team visited Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, where they interviewed Soldiers, commanders, and stakeholders in the legal, medical and SHARP community about the response and prevention efforts on the installation.
"So we can understand the environment and develop a strategy tailored to that specific installation," she said. "We have a lot of work to do. We can, from [headquarters] level, develop an overarching strategy, but then it will require local work for them to understand what their environment looks like and develop tailored strategies."
Janet Mansfield, with the Office of the Judge Advocate General, also spoke at the forum as part of a panel discussion. She said the recently created special victim prosecutor program, which includes 23 lawyers Army-wide who are specially trained in prosecuting special victim cases, was recently augmented with a new team member position called a "special victim witness liaison."
There are now 23 of those new positions across the Army, she said.
"They are GS-11s with a social work background, and specialized military justice training," she said. The [new team member] will be a primary source of information for the victim, [providing] the status of the case, explanations of the legal process, and assistance with referrals.
Mansfield also said there is a "myth" in the Army, which should be dispelled, that once somebody has consumed one drink of alcohol, they are no longer legally capable of consenting to sexual activity.
"That's not true," she said.
She said that information has been added to training material, but she hears that out in the field, not all trainers are using the training materials, so they miss it.
"Or worse, we have trainers who put that slide up and then say that it's not true," she said.
She said recently the conviction of a Marine for sexual assault was overturned after the case went up for review because of the misinformation regarding the amount of alcohol needed to render a person incapable of providing consent.
"The judges overturned that conviction, threw it out, in part, because the panel members -- those are our juries in the military -- had received official Marine Sexual Assault Prevention and Response training that included this misinformation about alcohol and consent," she said.
"And that meant that the judge and the appellate court felt that these panel members could not properly apply the law, and that this accused Marine had not had a fair trial. It matters."
She said right now, Army prosecutors tell her that when they interview jury members prior to a court martial and they ask about who has had training that contains the incorrect information, "at least half the hands go up every time."