FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- The physical wounds will heal in time but the mental damage of sexual assault can last forever.

Anxiety, depression, fear, loathing of self or others are just some of the emotions that a victim can experience. This can lead to bouts of rage; unable to work or function in society and worse; suicide.

"Sexual assault does so much damage to a person," Master Sgt. Ashleigh Sykes, U.S. Army Special Operations Command's Equal Opportunity Advisor said. "Their physical and mental state can be diminished. It takes a toll on them, especially mentally. They react in different ways: depression, anger, but you will usually see them blaming themselves."

The SHARP was established in 2008 to combat this issue plaguing the Army.
Since its inception, reporting of sexual assaults have almost doubled, the downside to reporting is the number of cases has risen. Sexual assaults/harassment is something that USASOC is working hard to fix with their Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevent Program (SHARP).

SHARP is there for both civilians and Soldiers. The command has advisors, counselors and chaplains available for anybody, even family members, to help combat sexual assault/harassment.

"We are one of the contacts in this timely issue," Chaplain (COL) Paul Lasley USASOC Command Chaplain said. "Our overall contribution is taking care of people. It is all about health."

USASOC's SHARP teams have to deal with an issue that is unique to most of regular Army -- the Rangers and Special Forces are currently all-male. This causes an environment that can lend itself to sexual assaults/harassments in both the feeling that it not a problem for the unit or reporting problems due to a sense of loyalty to the team or appearing weak to their comrades.

"Not all teams have a problem but some do and it is hard to get the Soldiers and their commanders to buy into the program," Sykes said. "They think it is only a female problem, but they have to realize they still need the training."

Last year, the Pentagon reported assaults on women represented less than 20% of actual incidents; male-on-male assaults occurred more than five times as often as male on women. But the caveat is women are more likely to report an assault/harassment than men.

The increase of reporting incidents, whether women or men, is due to breaking down the stigma of reporting and a change in attitudes.

"We see the stigma going away," Sykes said. "There is more reporting because people are getting more comfortable. "In some units people make jokes or act inappropriately but the new people are coming in the Army with different attitudes and are not finding those jokes funny."

"I perceive that is a greater awareness about sexual assault and the behavior in the past is no longer acceptable," Lasley said. "It has become a greater concern for the Army and there is a large effort by commanders and sergeant majors. It is not just the domain of SHARP, it is a leadership concern and they are getting more involved. It comes down to good leadership."

There is a stigma (talking about sexual assault) in going to someone for help. But while people might not want to talk to doctors or counselors, coming to a chaplain is different.

"Chaplains give an out as it mitigates the stigma of seeing somebody," Lasley said. "Because we offer a variety of programs, people don't know why you are coming to talk to us so they feel more comfortable. We have confidentiality with those who come to us because they know that what they say stays with us."

The chaplains also work closely with the teams. Each battalion has its own chaplain and chaplain assistant.

"The relationship with the battalion chaplain is special," Lasley said. "They don't go outside the family."

Both EO and Chaplains agree there is no place in the Army for sexual assault/harassment, and especially in USASOC.

"USASOC does a great job with its SHARP program in protecting people, both Soldiers and civilians, which in turns protects our mission," Sykes said. "The focus of the program is prevention. If they (USASOC personnel) know that we are there for them, and it will allow to come to work with one less thing to worry about. We will continue to focus on combating it (sexual assault). Our goal is for the victim to be cared for and back to performing their mission," Sykes said. "Our job is to take care of Soldiers.

April is Sexual Assault Prevention Awareness Month. If you have any questions, please go the Army's SHARP webpage at http://www.preventsexualassault.army.mil/. To contact a USASOC SHARP advisor call 910-432-0056.