CAMP ARIFJAN, KUWAIT -- Camp Arifjan and Camp Buehring Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention Program teams put on a series of events for Sexual Assault Awareness month. The month of awareness kicked off with an opening ceremony on April 1st when Brig. Gen. John Epperly, the Deputy Commander, 29th Infantry Division, delivered a speech noting the detriment sexual violence can bring to a unit and the importance of remaining vigilant and resilient. Since that kickoff event, the Camp Arifjan SHARP Resource Center has combined efforts to gather resources base-wide to engage servicemembers here with interesting and thoughtful ways to spread awareness.
Cpt. Robert Hicks, 29th Infantry Division Victim Advocate, believes events such as SHARP-themed slam poetry, the SHARP Teal Run/Walk, and showings of the 1988 movie "The Accused" help raise awareness and provide training without the usual monotony. Hicks said this type of training has shown to be much more effective than PowerPoint slide-driven lectures.
"The Accused" dramatizes events stemming from an actual 1983 rape case. Out drinking one night, Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) is raped by several men in a bar while others stand by and cheer the attackers on. District Attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) prosecutes the rapists; however, they receive light sentences. Afterwards, Sarah seeks punishment for the men who witnessed and encouraged the rape.
Following the first showing, attendees discussed their thoughts and feelings about the film. Though based on a 1983 event, the movie's message of taking a stand against sexual violence remains relevant. Hicks mentioned a strong theme emerged during the discussion.
"You can see the change, because when the movie came out it was a more of a victim-blaming culture," he said. "It was discussed that it's no longer focusing on what the victim did for this to happen, but rather about the perversion of power and the perpetrator and the importance of intervention."
Hicks discussed the importance of early intervention and assistance after sexual assault incidents. He asked participants to consider the coin-drop wishing wells frequently placed as charity fundraisers in shopping malls. In those wells, the dropped coin first slowly circles the wide upper portion of the funnel. As the coin descends into the narrower portion, it picks up speed.
Early in the coin's descent, it can be easily retrieved; however, as Hicks pointed out, "once it starts spinning fast at the smallest portion, no matter what you do, you're not going to be able to pull that coin back out." Hicks used this as a metaphor for the window of opportunity in which to intervene with those contemplating suicide or dealing with the experience of sexual violence.
"We need to stop being bystanders and take action when opportunities to intervene crop up" said Hicks. "We need to be more vigilant in protecting our own."
Sgt. 1st Class Ellen Billmeyer, Safety Non-commissioned Officer-in-charge for the 29th Infantry Division, has personally experienced sexual violence and admitted that it has taken a lot of time and support to begin recovery. She acknowledged that everyone heals differently, but often there are shared coping mechanisms. Whether it is trauma from combat or sexual violence, Billmeyer believes resiliency is important.
"When someone has been through something traumatic, everybody carries a sort of baggage," said Billmeyer. "You have to figure out how to get to the other side of fear or at least keep your head above the water and breathe until you get past the worst part of the process."
Hicks shares this sentiment, and encourages those trying to find their voice or seeking help with a sexual violence issue to visit trained professionals at the Camp Arifjan SHARP Resource Center. Hicks explained that the ultimate goal is to eliminate sexual harassment and assault in our forces. Even though much has changed over the years and SHARP awareness has risen, Hicks believes there is still a long way to go. At the moment he and his team are focusing on spreading awareness and encouraging people to come forward.
"Right now our goal is to increase the reporting level," said Hicks. "This will make it easier to provide safety for the victims, and to bring the perpetrators to justice."
Billmeyer agrees that there needs to be a safe environment for victims and witnesses to come forward. While SHARP advocates and program supporters as a whole work to foster such an environment Army-wide, Billmeyer suggests that soldiers generally should focus on helping each other and take advantage of all the resources that are currently available. She reassures those effected by sexual violence that they can benefit from assistance provided by the specialized SHARP counselors here on base.
"One of the main things is finding someone to talk to," said Billmeyer. "You can't always burden someone like a friend; they don't always know how to react, so it's good that there are resources available."
Hicks encourages everyone, regardless of rank or service, to attend future SHARP events. Hicks pointed out that the poetry event, as well as the movie showing, count as leadership training. He reminds Soldiers of all types and ranks that it is not just SHARP personnel that can make a difference. To make a real difference, is a task for the total force.
"It is everyone's responsibility to join together to accomplish our goal," said Hicks. "That goal is to eradicate sexual violence from our Army."