By Joe LacdanApril 25, 2019
WASHINGTON -- Following the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, Army Corps of Engineers workers voiced their concerns to Dr. Alicia Case, a sexual assault response coordinator, after encountering unwanted advances during deployments to Puerto Rico.
"A lot of employees came back and talked about being harassed -- being in hostile environments," said Case, who was recognized as the 2019 Exceptional Sexual Assault Response Coordinator of the Year during the annual Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month Recognition Ceremony at the Pentagon Tuesday.
From travelling to regions like the Caribbean and the Pacific, corps members must not only be cognizant of sexual harassment and assault in their work areas, but they must also remain wary of potential risks including working in proximity to sex trafficking, labor trafficking and prostitution, Case said.
"A lot of times we have employees that go to areas where sex is the only currency that people may have," Case said. "When I started doing this, most people didn't realize what human trafficking was."
Shortly after, Case opened the first USACE disaster area SHARP office providing on-site support to Soldiers, civilians and FEMA workers in Puerto Rico. In the past, victims could not report incidents of sexual assault and harassment until they returned to their primary duty assignments. The on-site SHARP office provided direct services to victims, including referral and advocacy programs.
Case's nomination to spearhead the Puerto Rico office didn't come without merit. Her extensive work in advocacy earned the respect of her peers. Case, who previously served in the Navy, focused on educating commanders and leaders on sexual assault and sexual harassment issues -- either in face-to-face meetings or at luncheons and speaking engagements. She travelled throughout the command to meet with commanders.
"We do our mandatory training and we talk about SHARP on the surface level, but a lot of that awareness was taking it to a deeper level," she said. "Things like (meetings) with the commanders on various topics."
Case advocated a holistic approach toward training which focused on bystander-based prevention. She built her program by gaining the trust and confidence of victims. Her work helped several at-risk survivors who had been suicidal to overcome their depression, according to USACE.
NOVA VICTIM ADVOCATE
Building a SHARP program from the ground up posed a lofty challenge for Sgt. Maj. Tamika Wynn. In September 2012, the Fort Belvoir leadership assigned Wynn to do just that for the installation's 8,000 residents and the thousands more working at the installation.
With limited funding, she managed to secure a small office with some basic office equipment and SHARP promotional materials. By April 2013, she had 20 trained collateral victim advocates on staff.
"As a sergeant major, I knew what my mission was," Wynn said. "At the time, I didn't know exactly how to start. I just looked at the mission. I had a vision (and) I knew how to take care of Soldiers. I just ran with it."
Before retiring from the Army a year ago, Wynn helped run a SHARP Resource Center in the heart of Belvoir. Half of the building serves as a sexual harassment and assault response training center and the other half provides support services for victims. Wynn, the recipient of the 2018 National Organization for Victim Assistance, or NOVA Exceptional Military Victim Advocate Award, now serves as the SARC for the Military District of Washington and the National Capital Region.
Wynn took additional steps to enhance the safety and security of victims and advocates using the Fort Belvoir facility. She had cameras installed inside and outside of the SHARP Resource Center, which performs 24-hour assistance to victims, including counseling sessions and private, secure waiting rooms.
HELPING TEENS IN GERMANY
William Mottley and Rachel Phillips partnered together to help educate a population identified as the most vulnerable to sexual harassment and sexual assault: teens and adolescents ages 18 and younger, who are not covered by SHARP policy.
Mottley and Phillips provided sexual assault prevention training programs to more than 300 middle and high school students in Wiesbaden, Germany during the 2017-2018 school year. Their two-phased approach first focused on sexual harassment and assault, consent, social media and healthy relationships. The second phase educated students on how bystander intervention could help prevention efforts.
Mottley served as the Army Garrison SHARP program manager, while Phillips was assigned as the 66th Military Intelligence Brigade sexual assault response coordinator.
The program, called Operation Student Step-Up, helped create a welcome environment for students and faculty to openly discuss sexual assault and sexual harassment.
Their efforts helped earn Mottley and Phillips the group award for Excellence in Primary Prevention.
The award winners' efforts highlighted the Army's push to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault servicewide. The Army has continued to push its "Not in My Squad" campaign, which focuses on prevention and building cohesive units at the squad level. The Army has also encouraged more education on sexual assault and sexual harassment for commanders and leaders. On April 4, the Army participated in a two-day joint-service national discussion on sexual assault and sexual harassment in the nation's colleges at the Naval Academy.
Dr. James A. Helis, director of the Army's SHARP, Ready and Resilient Directorate, praised the work of the award recipients.
"They understand the grave and far-reaching consequences of sexual violence," he said. "Sexual assault is a violation of our core values. It is a fundamental failure of our responsibility to take care of our Soldiers, civilians and their family members. The presence of sexual assault is a breach of faith within our ranks, and with the American people. One case is too many. We are committed to this cause."