Survivors teach from experience
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention training took a detour from its usual PowerPoint presentation when two survivors of sexual assault shared their stories and then held a discussion with Soldiers April 15. It helped to increase awareness, and bring attention to the fact that people can not only survive after sexual assault, but thrive as well.

Barbara Garber, SHARP program manager, said they were looking for a different way to present the information.

"But we need to be able to look people in the eye and say, 'what are you going to do to change this conversation?'" she said.

Maj. Hali Picciano, Army Medical Department Center and School faculty member, said the event did not go as planned, as they allowed more time for discussion and less for their stories.

"I was actually pretty nervous this morning, because it was not a lot of people here, about 25 or so," she said. "It's a younger, more junior crowd than we normally present to. And this morning, I was like, they don't care about my stupid survivor story. I think they want to talk."

Garber said the discussion helped dispel myths the Soldiers may have had toward SHARP training as well.

"We had a young man who was quite angry about how SHARP male bashes," she said. "That is not what SHARP does. But one of the biggest things is we dispel those myths. "… he stayed after the presentation, we talked a little bit and he's going to be a good advocate to go out and say, 'hey, cut that crap out. Don't treat people like that … You're wearing a uniform just like me. It doesn't matter if you're male or female. This is not right.'"

"That conversation, that one-on-one, I don't think he would have gotten it from just (sitting there), he would have just stayed mad," Garber said. "I think (they) did an excellent job in reaching some of the people that I don't think would have been reachable by standard SHARP training."

Picciano, a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, hoped her presence would show Soldiers that survivors can make it through and also come out stronger in the end.

"Sexual assault is something that is traumatic, but it's something that is survivable," she said. "I think that hopefully what people see when they see or talk to me is it didn't define me. Sexual assault doesn't define who you are as a Soldier. I started my life in the Army as a (Private 1st Class). and I could have easily let that be the end of my abilities. Survival is possible. It's just a lot of work."

For Heath Phillips, who wore a shirt with a teal ribbon that said "Men Too," sharing his story was personal.

"I know all the struggles, everything I had to go through, I still think about it and live it every day," he said. "I hope that when they walk away from this, that their eyes are opened up a little bit more, maybe they'll have even more integrity, help each other, be willing to talk to each other more about these subjects that once you leave here it's normally joked about. So that's why I do it."