April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

By Capt Erika Andresen/Natick Soldier Systems Center and Kari Sharpe/USAG NatickApril 11, 2019

This year's theme is "I Ask," which sends the message that asking for consent is a normal and necessary part of interactions. For people to proclaim "I Ask" shows a cognizance of the most important first step in what can be a series of missteps in a sexual encounter: obtaining consent. Explicit consent. While the focus of this month is always on victims and awareness, this year's theme endeavors to make consent a proud and permanent part of our conversational lexicon.

In addition to considering this year's theme, it is also a good time to explore facts from the past, present, and today about sexual assault, attitudes, the military's efforts to combat it, and services that are available to you here at NSSC.

Did You Know? Facts About Sexual Assault and Awareness.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month had its beginnings in 2001, when the National Sexual Violence Resource Center coordinated the first formally recognized Sexual Assault Awareness Month campaign. It wasn't until 2009, however, when President Barak Obama made the first official proclamation that April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Take Back the Night events were the first organized response to sexual assault and violence against women, started in 1976.

"Consent" has evolved, taking into consideration factors such as age, duress, mental disability, and substance intoxication.

It wasn't until 1993, with North Carolina criminalizing marital rape, that a husband sexually assaulting his wife became a crime in all 50 states. The prevailing notion behind allowing a man to rape his wife was that she consented to a lifetime of sexual intercourse through her vows.

Rape used to be a property crime against a virgin's father or husband. It wasn't until the 11th and 12th centuries that rape was seen as a violent crime against a victim.

Rape comes from the Latin word rapere, which means "to seize."

1861 was the first year a black woman could legally claim rape against a white man...six years after slavery was abolished.

There is no national law against sexual assault in the United States. Each state varies its law with respect to rape and sexual assault crimes. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is the only criminal code that applies the law universally.

The late 20st century definition of rape has been undergoing changes. Rape was only a violent act with a male's penis in a woman's vagina. Now the general category of sexual assault also includes restraint, threat, oral penetration, anal penetration, same sex victims and perpetrators, and female on male sexual assault.

Teal became the color of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in 2000 after a vote was held among various sexual violence coalitions from across the United States.

Did You Know? Facts About the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program.

The Army's SHARP program, as it operates today, started with a 2004 DoD review of processes for the treatment and support for victims of sexual assault in the military. The review resulted in the formation of the Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR), and by January of 2005, new policies were in place.

In 2011 and 2012, the Army reevaluated SAPR programming and implemented increased services, to include special victims' counsels and expedited transfers of victims. The Army began calling its SAPR program "SHARP," an acronym for the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.

In 2013, Chief of Staff of the Army, General Raymond Odierno, declared to the Senate Armed Services Committee that "combatting sexual assault and sexual harassment within our ranks is now the Army's number one priority."

Although prevailing stereotypes indicate that victims of sexual assault are female, males in significant numbers are also victims. The Army's SHARP program is dedicated to increasing awareness about male victims, ensuring they are specifically supported, and eliminating mischaracterizations that instill shame in male victims.

Most know about both restricted and unrestricted reports. Many may not know the reasoning behind allowing restricted reports (which leaves out law enforcement and the chain of command). It allows victims to control what happens to information about their assault. It allows them to personally process what happened, while still receiving medical and counseling support, with hopes that they'll eventually feel ready and prepared to un-restrict the report so the perpetrator may be held accountable.

Concerns about retaliation for reporting an assault have existed since the inception of SAPR.

Officials from the Pentagon's SAPR office indicate that any fear of ostracism or retaliation becomes a barrier to reporting the crime. The option to make a restricted report, annual requirements for every SHARP office to report alleged retaliation, hotlines and VA accessibility, and extensive training for leaders, even for future leaders at the United States Military Academy, are helping to remove the barrier.

Did You Know? Facts About the NSSC SHARP Program.

There are currently five SHARP Victim Advocates (VAs) providing support to NSSC. The VAs are all part of the NSSC workforce, and include civilians, military members, males, females, come from a variety of backgrounds, and all have different reasons for wishing to be involved in SHARP.

Just like at larger installations, all components of the SHARP program are available here. Support for NSSC includes face to face training events, a 24/7 hotline for potential victims, and special awareness events and outreach programs.

The NSSC program is always seeking new VAs. The responsibilities of a VA are collateral to other duties, and include providing annual training, occasional on-call support, and provide other valuable input into the implementation of SHARP. Anyone can contact Kari Sharpe, who has oversight of the SHARP program, to find out more about the rewarding opportunity to become a VA.

The SHARP office and VAs have information about off-installation resources as well.

The NSSC workforce, in fact anyone within the DoD Community, may call the Safe Helpline for anonymous, confidential, and secure help. The Self Helpine is a DoD 24/7 telephone support program that allows anyone to discuss their situation and concerns without worry that their information will be shared. Nobody from NSSC will be made aware of Safe Helpline contacts.