This year’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month occurs in the shadow of the disappearance and murder of Private 1st Class Vanessa Guillién, who had reported to her family last year that she was being sexually harassed by a sergeant on Fort Hood. She disappeared April 22, and her remains were found June 30.
Visiting Fort Belvoir in February, Lt. Gen. Douglas Gabram, IMCOM commander, told Garrison leaders he was disturbed by the resultant 136-page report on the case.
“That report will punch you in the gut – that really hurt,” Gabram said. “It’s not who we are, but it’s happening. That needs to be fixed. We have to teach you, set you up with the right tools so you can stop that.”
“I was watching the story on the ID channel last night. I can’t believe that it’s almost a year since that happened,” said Marie-Jules Byrd, Fort Belvoir SHARP victim advocate, who spoke to the Eagle about this year’s virtual events, to commemorate the month. Byrd said she saw how pandemic restrictions moved the needle on the number of incidents of harassment and assault.
“I started to transition out of the military during COVID, and as a 1st Sgt., I’d seen a decrease of misbehavior so that cut out a lot of barracks parties, the club scene or outside activities. They had to stay put in their barracks,” Byrd said.
Byrd, and Chinita Reid-Latson, the installation’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, have been coordinating events to educate people and communities through prevention and intervention training about the often-silent crime.
“Many assaults are not reported, and I believe that less than half of the assaults have been reported, due to fear of reprisal, fear of rank, fear of not actually identifying sexual assault or harassment. Reports might also be delayed by months or years, if reported at all,” said Reid-Latson.
“Victims need to be educated about their rights and their reporting options, to report the aggression and they will be protected. This is why the SHARP program was created; to give victims hope and closure,” Byrd said. “Victims need to know that it’s okay to report, and they now have options to report,” she said, regarding the difference between a restricted vs. unrestricted report. “If they’re scared of retaliation, they can make a restricted report that only the victim advocate will be briefed on, but it stays strictly confidential.”
Fort Belvoir SHARP will be raising awareness through a virtual 5k this month, and the first 125 applicants get a shirt and some SHARP gifts. Reid-Latson also asked everyone to show support for sexual assault survivors by wearing denim (jeans) on April 28 to show your protest against sexual violence. The campaign began after a ruling by the Italian Supreme Court where a rape conviction was overturned because the justices felt that since the victim was wearing tight jeans she must have helped the person who raped her remove her jeans, thereby implying consent. The following day, the women in the Italian Parliament came to work wearing jeans in solidarity with the victim.
If you, or someone you know, is being harassed or has been assaulted, contact the Fort Belvoir SHARP Hotline at 703-740-7029.