FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz.,- As the Army, the nation, and the world, battles the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence of sexual violence within the military has manifested into a silent pandemic of its own. While our fellow team members, families and communities become more attuned with an invisible pandemic, efforts to thwart this pestilence plaguing our military relies on long-term programs ending sexual violence. NETCOM has a program in place to confront and overcome this reprehensible behavior - the command’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program..
“The NETCOM SHARP Program delivers the highest quality of care for survivors, and drives efforts forward to strengthen survivors, increase advocacy and build resiliency,” said Stacy Picciano, NETCOM SHARP Program Manager.
“We stand ready to engage, and promptly address any/all allegations of sexual harassment, and sexual assault, and ensure those who report do not fear any form of retaliation for doing so,” Picciano said. “NETCOM sets and enforces standards of behaviors that promote accountability, victim support, dignity and respect. The NETCOM SHARP Program is designed to use the Army’s integrated, proactive effort to end sexual harassment and sexual assault within its ranks.”
“The SHARP program's primary mission is to enhance Army readiness through the prevention of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and associated retaliatory behaviors while providing comprehensive response capabilities,” stated NETCOM Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Maria Barrett, through a SHARP Proclamation earlier in the year. “With the signing of this proclamation, we as leaders at NETCOM are emphasizing the importance of how our Commanders, NCO’s, Soldiers, and Department of Defense civilians across the force need to create, maintain and grow a climate of prevention and one that enforces the reporting of sexual assault as something positive.
“Because the Army's 2020 theme is ‘Building Cohesive Teams through Character, Trust and Resilience,’ let us remember that SHARP is not a once a year observance, but a daily obligation that requires everyone to focus not only on themselves but their battle buddies to their left and their right.”
“The pandemic has dramatically adjusted daily SHARP response operations contingent on essential supportive services for victims that are usually conducted safely and securely by in-person health networks,” said Picciano. “The active focus on prevention strategies for eliminating sexual violence has now taken a virtual online platform. The in person activities of normal life patterns are now met with increased isolation and stigma. On a high note, organizations across the spectrum, have been able to adjust their methods of support via many on-line venues,” Picciano added.
“On any given day, SHARP professionals can participate in an abundance of related webinars, offered by an assorted group, that provide valuable training and awareness, on a variety of topics,” said Picciano. “Many of these webinars support advocate services available to victims/survivors: how to deal with and recognize emotional aspects of COVID, that include loneliness and isolation, how to use resilience to overcome some of the hurdles, and also emphasize the value and importance of necessary self-care for the SHARP professionals. We are all striving to make the best of an unfortunate situation.
“At the center stage is military sexual trauma coupled with negative emotions related to the pandemic. That combination alone, may present significant challenges for victim’s coping mechanisms and their state of mental health,” said Picciano. “We want victims/survivors to know, they do not have to suffer in silence, they are not alone and we are here to help.”
An effective SHARP program can build trust in leaders. “Sexual assault demoralizes our value system and undermines trust. We cannot operate effectively if we do not trust each other. The NETCOM SHARP Program strengthens the commands healthy climate efforts, regardless of rank or grade,” said Picciano.
“SHARP professionals and leaders are charged to emphasize the value and importance of trust. All NETCOM members of the Army profession have a personal and moral responsibility to eliminate sexual violence and reinforce a unified front against these threats. A stringent effort to enforce the Army Values, emphasizing the importance of treating others with dignity and respect and getting others to recognize their personal responsibility to be an Active Bystander, is ongoing,” said Picciano.
Creativity and outreach are key to the effectiveness of the command’s SHARP program, and according to Picciano, efforts across NETCOM certainly focus on the SHARP message. “Some of the efforts include SHARP poetry, poster, and talent contests, SHARP Rocks [rock painting], Look SHARP Clothing Exchange, the Amazing Race, SHARP Unit Runs, SHARP Raffles, SHARP Hot Chocolate Meet and Greet, SHARP Walkabouts, SHARP Trivia Challenges, and more.” The command’s latest effort is the SHARP ‘Show Sex Offenders the Door’ Contest, which just ended. The winning poster for the contest is scheduled to be announced Sept. 18.
According to Picciano the command’s extensive SHARP efforts are implemented down to the lowest levels all across the command.
“NETCOM and its subordinate organizations outreach efforts, are all different, and are tailored to their command’s climate, OPTEMPO and locations,” said Picciano. “Leadership involvement, at all levels is key to successful events.”
SHARP is an ‘all-inclusive’ Army concept where anyone can make a difference. Recently, Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Potts-Szoke of the 21st Signal Brigade was recognized for earning the 2020 SHARP Spirit Award Winner for Class 20-006 of the Army's Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention course, Sept. 1, 2020. “What a wonderful achievement,” wrote Maj. Gen. Barrett on a congratulatory note. “Your perseverance illustrates the unbeatable desire to achieve mission success, embodied in the American Soldier. There is no doubt, your performance is a reflection of your exemplary service in defense of our Nation and your dedication to our Army and this command.”
Potts-Szoke’s efforts are not alone. The command is committed to the Army SHARP program and is making a difference. “NETCOM will continue aggressive SHARP Outreach and Prevention efforts,” said Picciano. “In addition to providing SHARP focused events during April’s Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, every month the command team works to highlight SHARP goals, efforts, and changes.” And, if the past is a measure of future efforts, it is evident that maximum emphasis will continue to be focused on leaders at all levels for their involvement in the program’s goals.