By Honey E. Nixon, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public Affairs May 5, 2017
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (May 5, 2017) -Camp Zama came together as a community in recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, hosting numerous observance events throughout the month of April.
This year's theme was "Protecting Our People Protects Our Mission," which focuses on instilling the sexual assault prevention message at every level, so a culture of respect and trust is fostered and Department of Defense readiness is maintained.
Kicking off the monthly events was the Clothesline Project, which encouraged participants to design T-shirts that honored those who have been affected by sexual assault.
"The Clothesline Project was started in the early 1990s to address the issue of violence against women," said Gustacia Gabriel, Camp Zama's SHARP Program Manager.
"It is a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions through art (decorating a shirt), she said.
"The shirt is then hung on a clothesline to be viewed by others as a testimony to the problem of violence against women.
"The community response was simply awesome. Many people did not know what the Clothesline Project was and were moved by the significance of it once explained."
The decorated shirts were later displayed along the route of another key event, the SAAM Run, held April 21 at Yano Field. Various U.S. Army Japan battalions gathered bright and early to reflect not only the impact of sexual assault on Army readiness, but to learn how soldiers and civilians can walk together on the path of prevention.
"To me that's how we can make a difference," said Maj. Gen. James F. Pasquarette, commanding general of U.S. Army Japan, during his speech to Soldiers at the start of the run.
"Empowering the first-line leader, getting him comfortable and trained up to get in front of his soldiers or the folks he leads, whether it's DA civilians or Soldiers, and have a dialogue at the lowest level... with the people that you should have the trust in to talk about the policy, the program, procedures, said Pasquarette, "... just talk about the issue. I know that can make a difference."
SAAM participants, like Sgt. 1st Class Terry Graham, assigned to the 78th Signal Battalion, spoke of his family members who have been victims of sexual assault.
"I've had some family members that were sexually assaulted when we were younger and I had some friends that I found out years later were sexually assaulted," said Graham.
"They didn't know how to talk about it and they didn't want to bring it up because they felt it would bring too much shame on them.
"They didn't want anybody to know about it. They would rather try to deal with it themselves."
Graham expressed how talking about sexual assault can help those affected directly and indirectly.
"I just feel that it's easier to be able to have somebody you can talk to about it ... to help with the grief and the aftermath of everything that happens," continued Graham. "It's not just a local thing, if one person gets hurt, it affects the whole community, the whole family."
Furthering the community dialogue, SHARP representatives engaged community members with weekly information tables at the Camp Zama Exchange, complete with interactive games designed to open up the lines of communication about sexual assault - all in the hopes of removing the stigma that keeps victims and bystanders silent.
"If we get people talking, we take the taboo of it out it," said Staff Sgt. Tiffany Smith, Army sexual assault response coordinator for the Honshu Region. "It does not matter your rank or position, Soldier or Civilian, we all have a part in keeping the members of our community safe; it is everyone's responsibility to do something, say something."
Camp Zama Soldiers and Civilians had the opportunity to say something symbolically by participating in Denim Day on April 26, where they could wear denim to help dispel the myths of sexual assault while showing support for survivors of sexual violence.
Denim Day, according to denimdayinfo.org, began in response to an overturned conviction of an accused rapist, whose victim wore tight jeans, which the judges claimed she must have helped her attacker remove...thus implying consent. Outraged, women in the Italian Parliament protested by wearing jeans to work. In support of the protest Denim Day was later formed by a California activist in April 1999.
Camp Zama's culminating SAAM event was the "Take Back the Night" 3K Run/Walk held April 28. Soldiers, Civilians, and their Family Members showed support by donning glow necklaces and glow sticks to symbolically shine a light of awareness on sexual assault.
Col. Stephen Grabski, deputy commander of U.S. Army Japan, encouraged the crowd to keep the awareness going and to get assistance before sexual assault even happens.
"This (TBTN Run) is a way to try to keep the momentum going," said Grabski, "and make sure people understand that if you find yourself...in a situation you don't want to be, you should reach out and get some help."
Run participant, Sgt. 1st Class Elliott Peterson, with U.S. Army Dental Health Activity-Japan, said he appreciated the Army's initiative to bring sexual assault awareness to the forefront.
"To me bringing awareness to sexual assault is very humbling," said Peterson. "Back in the day, it was really tough, we weren't educated enough...so just bringing awareness is really good...for the whole community."
Although Camp Zama took out time this April to reflect on its commitment to prevent sexual assault, SHARP representatives hope this year's campaign encourages everyone to keep the issue on their minds year-round, said Smith.
"We are a small community," she said, "and we want everyone to feel safe no matter where you are or what you're doing ... let's talk about it and work together to eliminate the problem.
"Our (SHARP representatives) goal is to work our way out of a job! We want everyone to know that just one incident ... is too many."