Efforts underway to erase male sexual assault stigma, focus on prevention

By David VergunDecember 19, 2016

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WASHINGTON (Army News Service) -- Most men never report incidents of sexual harassment or assault against them, said Monique Ferrell, director of the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.

"[Men] respond differently to sexual assault than many women do," she said. "We need to help men feel comfortable [in reporting] so they can seek the help they need."

Ferrell spoke this month to hundreds of senior Army leaders at the 2016 SHARP Forum in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

"People don't want to talk about male sexual assault, but it's been in our formations for as long as we've been in existence," Ferrell said.

Several Army initiatives are now underway, aimed at getting male victims to report and seek help.


To get male survivors to come forward, the Army is planning a "Male Survivor Tribute and Portrait Tour" next year, Ferrell said.

The tour will feature the portraits and personal stories of male military service members who've experienced sexual assault and harassment, she said.

Ferrell said she believes that when male Soldiers hear stories from actual survivors, it will help them come forward to report their own abuse.

"They get it because they recognize the impact it has on the victim," she said. "We have to stop talking to the head and start talking to the heart. People have a personal connection to this and realize they have a responsibility as well" to report assaults, intervene when needed, and support survivors as they come forward.


The "Male Survivor Hologram Project," also known as the "Digital Sexual Assault Survivor," is a collaboration between the Army SHARP Academy, the Army Research Laboratory and the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies, Ferrell said.

The project is similar to one already done by ICT that features World War II Holocaust survivors, and is called "New Dimensions in Testimony." For that project, Holocaust survivors were interviewed and asked an extensive array of questions. Their video-recorded answers, coupled with software, enable viewers to interact with holographic representations of those survivors, and ask them questions.

Ferrell said she went to USC last year to see the technology firsthand. The audience asked questions and the survivors responded to questions. "We're going to do this with a male sexual assault survivor."


Another initiative underway for both males and females is Mind's Eye II, Ferrell said. It's a leadership development program that looks at how life experiences shape an individual's future.

She said those same experiences also shape an individual's ability or willingness to intervene or take action in certain situations.

Mind's Eye II is an initiative "created by Soldiers for Soldiers," she said. It will allow Soldiers to practice the skills they need to intervene in a safe setting.

Mind's Eye II capitalizes on the outsize role peer influencers play, Ferrell said. These influencers come from all ranks and all formations.

They "reinforce values we recognize as critical to the profession of arms, things like trust, Army values and unit cohesion. They can shift cultural change."

In a few months, several Mind's Eye II pilots will be launched. At the moment, the Army is finalizing the evaluation criteria.


Leadership has a huge role to play in combating sexual harassment and assault, Ferrell said.

A planned initiative called the Installation Environmental Scan is based on a 2014 RAND Corp. military workplace study.

The study identifies individual and community factors and prevention strategies that will help installation commanders at the local level develop strategies for their own unique challenges, she said.

"We know that different installations have different rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault," she said.

While it is now unknown why that is the case, Ferrell said, it's possible that certain career fields, different types of organizational structures, or even different unit demographics could be the cause. Additionally, she said, the cultural influence of surrounding communities could affect the rate of sexual assault and sexual harassment on installations.

The Installation Environmental Scan will look into these factors, she said.


Unlike uniformed members, civilians are not able to file restricted reports of sexual assault, Ferrell said.

"We really want everyone to file unrestricted reports because then we can take action and hold people accountable," Ferrell said. "But we encourage both types so people can get the help they need."

The good news is that the Army just received an approved exception to policy from DOD for a one-year pilot to allow civilians to file restricted reports, Ferrell said. This will allow civilian personnel confidential access to SHARP resources without triggering an investigation. The Air Force already has such an arrangement in place, she said. The Army pilot is in staffing pending the secretary of the Army's approval.

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