HONOLULU – April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Regional Health Command-Pacific’s command team signed a proclamation here recently signifying its support for eliminating sexual assault and harassment in the Army.
Brig. Gen. Jack M. Davis, commanding general of RHC-P, and Sgt. Maj. Conrad Walters, acting command sergeant major, signed the proclamation to bring awareness to and show support of the Army’s continuing efforts to eliminate sexual assault and harassment, something the leaders called “a scourge” on the service’s reputation, ethics and values.
The Army continues to fight sexual harassment and assault in its ranks, increasing the amount of money and personnel in the fight to reduce the number of incidents, leaders said.
Despite the Army’s efforts, however, reported instances of sexual harassment and assault continue to increase, according to results of a Department of Defense study released last year.
The study, reflecting data from Fiscal Year 2018, found a “statistically significant increase” of sexual assault in the military.
The study stated that about 6.2 percent of active duty women indicated having experienced a sexual assault in the year before the survey, up from the 4.3 percent measured in the 2016 survey. The estimated prevalence rate for active duty men in the 2018 survey was 0.7 percent, statistically unchanged from the previous assessment.
Using these rates, the DoD said, an estimated 20,500 service members experienced some kind of sexual assault in 2018, up from 2016’s estimate of approximately 14,900.
Sgt. 1st Class Melissa Arizmendi, RHC-P’s SHARP program manager, said her office is adjusting its emphasis in an effort to change trends and reduce incidents in the command.
“We have focused on response since the start of the program,” Arizmendi said. “Now, we are focusing more on prevention.”
Arizmendi said this year’s SAAPM theme is, “Building Cohesive Teams through Character, Trust, and Resilience. Protecting Our People Protects Our Mission.”
“This theme was chosen because character and trust are the cornerstones of cohesive teams, and cohesive teams are built by engaged leaders that are trusted by their subordinates,” she said.
Arizmendi said RHC-P’s SHARP office is using some new tactics in the battle against sexual assault and harassment.
“We are working to ensure that incoming personnel get a responsible sponsor,” she said. “These personnel get SHARP training within days, so they know the risks for their area.”
Arizmendi has been the RHC-P SHARP program manager since August, 2017, and said the team works directly with equal opportunity and equal employment opportunity teams to ensure all service members, civilians, contractors and family members are shown the required dignity and respect.
“Anyone witnessing an event outside of dignity and respect is asked to intervene,” she said. “Workplace inspections are conducted on a regular basis.
“Leaders must not tolerate any form of sexual harassment or assault,” she said.
There are a number of resources available to RHC-P members who feel they have been sexually assaulted or harassed, Arizmendi said.
“If they are unable or unwilling to visit the SHARP office, they can use any other SHARP office, the chaplain, behavioral health, special victims’ counsel, office of personnel management, DoD Safe helpline, Military OneSource, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, or their local installation 24/7 hotline,” she said.
“Victims of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault will have different needs based on their individual situation, option they choose to report, and willingness to share,” Arizmendi added.
There are two types of reporting available to victims of sexual harassment or assault: restricted and unrestricted.
Arizmendi said restricted reporting gives the victim the opportunity to report the incident, receive SHARP services, get medical treatment, including a sexual assault forensic examination, and receive legal services, including having a dedicated special victim advocate with more control over release of information.
An unrestricted report includes all the above as well as support from the command, a military protective order, civilian protective order, and an investigation, with the ability to charge the alleged offender with a crime.
Arizmendi, a licensed practical nurse, said Sexual Assault Awareness Month has been observed nationwide since 2001, after building on efforts since the 1970s to bring more attention to the problem.
Arizmendi said her job as the SHARP program manager fits her personality.
“I enjoy helping people,” she said. “It has always been part of my identity. I also like that at this level, I can have an influence on change and policy rewrites.”
HELP IS AVAILABLE
If you have been sexually assaulted or harassed, contact your chain of command or reach out to the following resources:
RHC-P SHARP office: 808-777-9157
RHC-P Equal Opportunity office: 253-966-5507
RHC-P Chaplain: 808-594-8031 or 808-741-3049
Veterans' Crisis Line: 800-273-8255 or text 838255; in Korea, call 0808-555-118 or DSN 118
DoD Safe Helpline: 877-995-5247
Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAIN): 800-656-HOPE (4673)
For additional information, visit the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office website at www.sapr.mil.