By Mrs. Shatara Seymour (Leonard Wood)July 6, 2017
Walking into Company E, 701st Military Police Battalion, teal blue painted handprints adorn the company's wall with signatures of Soldiers who have taken the pledge to stop sexual assault and harassment.
Before this new group of some 200 MP Soldiers signed the wall, they were given the option to stand, verbally take the pledge, sign the pledge on paper and listen to the story of a sexual assault victim firsthand.
Capt. Edward McHenry Jr., Co. E commander, reminded the Soldiers that they all had just completed an important milestone in their careers, transitioning from being civilians into Soldiers and the responsibilities that come with that.
"With this oath that you have taken to be a Soldier, there are some things that you cannot afford to be, and that's being a bystander. That means allowing something to happen that you know should not be happening," McHenry said. "Your Family members and friends sent you here and expect for us to give them back a Soldier. What they do not expect is for us to give them back a victim."
Before the guest speaker shared his story, Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Scheibley, Co. E senior drill sergeant and Sexual Assault Response coordinator, reiterated to the Soldiers that they have been trained and given the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention class, but to make sure they remember everything they learned through Basic Combat Training about SHARP.
"Ensure you are paying attention. Today is designed for you to take ownership of SHARP, and as the commander said, not to be a bystander," Scheibley said.
Scheibley told the company it's important to know how to get help, where to report incidents of sexual misconduct and that they have to take care of each other.
Following McHenry and Scheibley, spoken word artist, Nathan Say, from Las Vegas, Nevada, addressed the Soldiers saying a small statistic of people who commit sexually violent acts actually go to trial.
"What does that say about our society? It says, that we choose to not pay attention to what is going on around us in regard to sexual harassment and sexual assault," Say said. "It is my hope that none of you become a victim of sexual assault. I think it is important that we understand, and this is why this pledge is so dear to me."
Say was raised with a conservative religious background and went to school at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
"I was a true blue Mormon, and I wanted to give my entire life to the Mormon Church," Say said. "I was on track to become a religious studies instructor for the Mormon Church."
But nearly seven years ago, in his last semester at BYU, he was sexually assaulted by his male roommate.
"If someone tells you, 'no,' then 'no means no' -- the first time, not the fifth time or the eighth time -- the first time," Say said.
According to Say, after he was sexually assaulted, he told the dormitory resident director. He was told the school didn't have any procedure to handle reports of sexual assault.
At only one semester from graduating, he nearly had his diploma revoked by the school administration, who claimed that rather than being a victim, Say was a participant, and "boys will be boys," he said.
"So then, I was in violation of the school's honor code policy, which says you won't engage in sexual activity outside of marriage," Say said.
Say would be allowed to complete his studies on the condition of he'd have to stand before the school's president, who told him if he didn't want his diploma revoked, he must never speak of the incident again.
During the remainder of his semester, Say said he was often sick. He hardly attended class, though he did finish and earn his diploma.
Turning to his parents, and his church, brought similar denials and rebuffs and deep hurt, Say said.
Say subjected himself to drug and alcohol abuse to medicate the pain of the assault and resulting rejection. Three years of visiting a therapist, twice weekly, helped Say with the aftermath of the sexual assault and rejection.
Say left the Soldiers with a spoken word poem and the plea to stand tall and be heard for themselves and others.
Following his testimony, all of the Soldiers in the room stood up, repeated the pledge vowing, "To speak up and end sexual assault. Not in my company. Not in my Army."
"You are the future of this Army … you're not here to become fodder for somebody else. Take this seriously. If you don't, the ramifications and repercussions don't just impact the victim; they don't just impact the perpetrator; they impact everybody -- impacting an entire community," McHenry said. "Be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem."