FORT KNOX, Ky. – It can be an uncomfortable topic to discuss — but not one that those who are directly impacted by it are able to shy away from.
For these and other reasons, military leaders are ensuring theirs are the voices speaking out against sexual harassment and assault. One such leader is Fort Knox Garrison Commander Col. C.J. King, for whom this issue is extremely important.
“It’s about protecting your brothers and your sisters,” said King, “and being there for your fellow Soldier.”
The Army first introduced Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention training in 2006 to both raise awareness and reduce the number of future victims. King said while he has served more than 30 years, it’s only been over the last decade where he has seen people really begin to understand the significance of programs like SHARP.
“People are truly trying to embrace it in such a way that they can effect change,” said King.
He added trainings are definitely helpful, but unfortunately not what often really opens people’s eyes.
“While I think we’ve all always taken it seriously, oftentimes it takes a pivotal or a crucial event to get your attention, so that you begin to dial in on a personal level,” said King.
In this case, King said he is speaking from experience.
“I probably didn’t take this as serious as I should have until five, six years ago when I was personally impacted by it,” said King. “When a Soldier came forward and I saw it with my own eyes, [I saw] the impact this has on a person.”
Recalling the memory still weighs heavily on King.
“I had a Soldier who I believe was assaulted,” said King. “She never told me she was but the signs were there, and that impacted me because I realized that I didn’t do enough to set conditions in the unit she was in to keep it from happening.
“I could have done more.”
As King reflected on the way this affected him personally, he admitted he can only imagine what victims are going through.
“Not everybody’s ready to come forward at the same time,” said King. “Oftentimes, people will carry this for a number of years before they ever open up about it, if they ever open up about it.”
He explained how important supporting victims is to him, which for King has become a true mission.
“I’ve come to realize that this is something you carry with you your entire life,” said King. “It’s something nobody should have to carry, and if they do, they shouldn’t have to carry it alone.”
The most recent Defense Department statistics show one in three military women who have experienced sexual assault come forward to make a report. The survey also indicated one in 14 men who have been assaulted report it.
King recognized the fear involved with reporting when a Soldier knows there’s no witnesses, but assured victims that leaders are going to fight for them.
“I and other commanders out there are here to do something about it,” said King. “We’re going to listen, we’re going to investigate, and if the investigation points to probable cause, we’re going to decisively and aggressively take action.”
This is where King said the importance of SHARP trainings, and the commitment of Army leaders, needs to be an ongoing effort.
“I think creating an environment where folks feel supported and safe, and where everything to prevent this from happening is being done, is helpful,” said King.
He noted, however, that predators are everywhere and there’s always more that can be done to address the problem. The key will be for everyone to stand together on the issue.
“We’re a team. We’re a family,” said King. “That being said, there’s even predators in a family. So we’ve got to be aware, we’ve got to approach this with an open eye, and if you see something, you can’t be a quiet bystander. You’ve got to say something because if it doesn’t look right, it probably isn’t.”
For King, shining a light on the need for conversations about sexual harassment and assault doesn’t end. He will continue being a voice for those who, in many cases, can’t use their own.
“We can’t stop talking about it,” said King. “It’s got to be a primary narrative going forward.”
Editor’s Note: To report sexual assault, call the DOD Safe Helpline 24 hours a day at 877-995-5247 or visit safehelpline.org.