By Mr. Jason L Austin (IMCOM)March 24, 2009
HEIDELBERG, Germany -- In the confusing realm of gender stereotypes, innuendo and sex roles in human relationships, often young Soldiers are left in a fog not knowing what is acceptable behavior and what's a crime.
"This is part of a cultural change in our Army," said Lt. Col. Robert White, commander, U.S. Army Garrison Heidelberg, Monday in an introduction to "Sex Signals," a scripted, interactive and improv show designed to make young people think about sexual assault prevention.
"Too often in the past we have been reactive rather than proactive when it comes to sexual assault and sexual harassment in our Army. That is no longer the case," White said.
The show, on it's first stop in a weeklong tour of military communities in Europe, used humor and common language laced with military jargon to make the audience feel at ease while discussing difficult subjects like date rape and sexual assault.
"It was really good, and funny, but they talked about the truth and reality," said Sgt. Maricela Morena, with U.S. Army Europe's personnel.
The show, featuring two actors - Fawzia Mirza and Chris Beier with Catharsis Productions - was originally designed for college audiences, according to Suzanne Dubois, regional program manager for Installation Management Command-Europe's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, but has been adopted by the Department of the Army because of the similar demographics.
In one skit Mirza and Beier set up a bar scene with two straight-backed chairs, which become a love seat in a different scene.
They had just confirmed gender roles with the audience - men are aggressive and goal (sex) oriented, and women are passive and innocent.
"We're supposed to be virgins every time, right'" Mirza asked the audience. "So, I'll be a virgin (the audience laughed) why is that funny'"
In the scene the man approached the woman with a 'special' drink and encouraged her to drink up while getting very aggressive with his body and hands.
The woman, playing the passive role, resisted, but allowed the activity to continue.
The audience, who all had stop signs to signal when the situation warranted intervention, held up the signs to no avail. The man kept going.
The stop signs represented the many opportunities people have in intimate moments to say no. It's up to the initiator, most often the man, to pay attention to the stop signs and stop.
In a more subtle way, Beier described how the initiator didn't stop when told to in an acquaintance rape situation. Beier was being interviewed for a talk show "It's not my fault."
He described an evening with a fellow Soldier playing video games, drinking and sharing a pizza. The evening had many starts and stops toward sexual intercourse, with his partner often reinitiating the activity, but when intercourse began she whispered "stop."
He didn't and now faces rape charges.
Many in the audience initially supported his character, but when it became more evident that he didn't stop when she said to, he was guilty of the crime.
The only true way to ensure consent to sex, according to the actors, is to ask for consent and respect the answer.
White and the actors encouraged the audience to also look out for others who may be falling victim to sexual predators.
"There are no innocent bystanders when it comes to this crime," White said. "Do not let it happen. Act. Do something."
Beier pointed out during the show that as American Soldiers, "it's your job to protect people you don't know," whether it's the 300 million people back home or a stranger in a bar.
Despite the heavy subject, one Soldier who saw the show in Kaiserslautern Tuesday said, the humor caught her attention.
"The fact that the actors put humor and life into the show made it capture and keep the attention of everyone who watched it," Sgt. Angela Wiese, a supply sergeant for the USAG Kaiserslautern. "It didn't seem as if this were training that was being mandated. It seemed like something you would've wanted to see anyway. It made it relatable to every day life."
(Editor's Note: Jason Austin writes for the USAG Baden-Wuerttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post. Christine June, who also writes for the Herald Post, contributed to this report.)