ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Results of the 2016 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members, or WGRA, point to an estimated decrease of 2,100 sexual assaults in the Army, as compared to the results of the same survey done in 2014.
Additional information from the Army indicates that reporting of sexual assaults has gone up slightly over those same two reporting periods. In 2014, for instance, the Army received a total of 2,335 reports of sexual assault, both "restricted" and "unrestricted. In 2016, that number went up to 2,497.
Increased reporting is generally thought to relate to improvements in command climate, where Soldiers who are sexually assaulted feel more comfortable coming forward and reporting that assault.
The 2016 WGRA actually showed a decrease in sexual assaults across the armed forces, but Monique Ferrell, the director of the Army's Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention program, cited the Army as having contributed most to that positive trend.
"The Army numbers drove that decrease," she said.
Following the opening events of the third annual SHARP Program Improvement Forum, Ferrell discussed other positive trends for the Army in relation to its effort to eliminate sexual assault and harassment in the ranks.
One example of progress, she said, is the update of important SHARP policy in Army Regulation 600-20, which is titled "Army Command Policy." Ferrell said the SHARP program has a full chapter in that regulation. The full regulation, which includes a wide range of Army command policy, is currently being staffed through officials in the Pentagon.
"We are hoping that document will be published and distributed to the field by the end of the year," she said. "That is going to be tremendous."
Ferrell said a plus for having critical SHARP-related policy in writing is that it makes it easier for commanders and SHARP professionals to execute and comply with those policies when they can see it in official Army regulations.
While the SHARP office has one chapter in AR 600-20 -- the current edition numbers 140 pages -- it will have an entire regulation to itself by spring of 2018, Ferrell said. By then, she said, the SHARP program office will have published its own 600-series regulation that goes into more detail than what is in AR 600-20.
"What we are in the process of doing is developing a SHARP regulation that we will have control of," she said. "The great thing about it is that we pulled folks together who have worked in the program for a long time. We are now in the process of staffing it with the field. When we receive their comments and adjudicate them, we'll send it for legal review and will be able to publish."
One benefit to that, she said, is the SHARP office will be able to update its own policies more frequently and with less difficulty than it is able to update them as they appear in the larger AR 600-20.
"This is a very dynamic program and there are changes that come about very frequently," she said.
Congress also frequently makes changes to how the program is conducted, she said, through legislation that appears yearly in the National Defense Authorization Act.
With the SHARP program set to have its own Army regulation, changes required by Congress, and changes developed in-house, will be able to appear in print more quickly than they do now.
"We can control how frequently we update it," she said.
Also in that new regulation will be two annexes that detail how the Army Reserve and Army National Guard implement the SHARP program within their own ranks.
"We've done the hard work," Ferrell said. "We brought them to the table. We charged them with writing their chapter. So, we have an annex for the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard to tell them how this program applies to them."
When it comes to SHARP training, it's not typical for the SHARP program office at the Pentagon to develop training plans for the field, Ferrell said. Instead, the headquarters-level office defines what must be taught, while the SHARP Academy at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, develops training support packages, and Soldiers in the field decide how to deliver that training to Soldiers and DA civilians.
But Ferrell said that reports from the field have indicated that Soldiers have grown numb to SHARP training as it was delivered in years past. In order to increase the effectiveness of that training, Ferrell said, the SHARP program office has been recommending changes in how that training is delivered.
"What we do is encourage them to develop unique, creative ways to deliver training," she said, explaining that slide show-based presentations are being discouraged.
Instead, she said, "we encourage small-group, scenario-based discussions, and games, where you quiz members. What we are hearing from the field is that when they get that kind of training, it is much more effective, they remember it, and they don't look at it negatively."
One training program that is being driven from the SHARP program office is a leader development training course called "Mind's Eye 2."
Ferrell said the original "Mind's Eye" was developed within the 3rd Infantry Division, and she had been impressed with it when she first saw it in action.
"It causes the people who take the training to do self-reflection and to understand why they do the things they do, how their past experiences impact whether they will recognize an emergency when they see it, and if they would intervene or take action to stop that incident from happening," Ferrell said.
The Mind's Eye 2 program is aimed at "influencers," Ferrell said. That doesn't necessarily mean Soldiers who are in a leadership position in a unit, but rather, any Soldier who has great influence over other Soldiers. It will be up to leadership to identify those influencers in their units.
The Mind's Eye 2 program is going to be piloted next year, in January and February, within units inside U.S. Army Forces Command, she said. The results of that training will be used to determine if the program should go Army-wide.
This is the third year the Army's SHARP program office has held its Program Improvement Forum. Ferrell said the forum will provide training to SHARP professionals on areas where they may have challenges such as resource management, for instance, as well as data management.
She cited as an example use of the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database. Some SHARP professionals in the field, she said, have reported problems with using the system. At the SHARP Program Improvement Forum, SHARP professionals will discuss the challenges they are having with reporting, for instance, and try to find ways to improve it.
Lt. Gen. Thomas C. Seamands, the Army's G-1, opened the SHARP Program Improvement Forum, speaking to several hundred SHARP program managers, lead sexual assault response coordinators, and victim advocates gathered to share ideas.
"You have an incredible opportunity over the next two days to make a difference; you can share, you can grow, and you can sharpen your skills and help others do the same," Seamands said. "SHARP is a high priority for our Army leaders and we are committed to making the programs and processes, through forums like this, successful."