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Schofield Barracks, Hawaii – The 2nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division joined the DoD in dedicating April to promoting prevention and raising awareness of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

This April marks the DoD’s 20th anniversary of the Sexual Assault Awareness Prevention Month (SAAPM). 2IBCT themed this year’s SAAPM as “Building Cohesive Teams through Character, Trust & Resilience. Protecting Our People Protects Our Mission.”

“Dignity and respect,” said Col. Neal Mayo, 2IBCT Commander. “Our greatest strength is our people. We build that strength through mutual trust, dignity, and respect. Sexual assault and sexual harassment erodes cohesive teams and directly degrades our ability to serve the citizens of the United States.”

The brigade’s Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) team, Ms. Tamara Taylor and Sgt. First Class Brandon Mader, implemented a variety of events to spread the word on the significance of preventing the corrosive behavior, before it begins.

The SHARP team organized a SAAPM proclamation, message to the troops, and leadership development sessions to teach Soldiers how fraternization and unhealthy relationships can easily lead to sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“Most of the sexual assault cases we see do not fit the Hollywood stereotypes,” said Mader. “The perpetrators aren’t jumping out of bushes or casually sliding pills in victims’ drinks. Most often, it’s unhealthy relationships and fraternization that leads to sexual assault and sexual harassment. Soldiers should take the time to educate themselves on boundaries and the importance of obtaining consent.”

“For example, a leader might initiate a relationship with a junior Soldier. However, the leader doesn’t understand that the Soldier feels pressured to follow along because of the leader’s authority. Eventually, the relationship gets physical and the junior individual feels forced.”

In addition to messages and discussion, 2IBCT participated in a variety of attention-grabbing events. The brigade participated in U.S. Army Hawaii Garrison’s SHARP escape room, a hands-on, interactive challenge testing Soldiers sexual assault and harassment knowledge. The brigade invited Soldiers, Families, and sexual assault survivors to write a personal message using chalk on the garrison’s sidewalk at an event titled “Chalk the Walk.”

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The brigade’s sustainment battalion, 225 Brigade Support Battalion, conducted a strenuous physical training event. Soldiers were tasked to run long distances, fill sandbags and carry their peers who were ‘wounded.’ Along the way, the Soldiers were asked questions about sexual assault prevention and reporting. If they answered correctly, they were rewarded with shovels to fill the sandbags, vice using their hands. If they answered incorrectly, they were tasked with carrying more weight.

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“’Denim Day’ is usually the SAAPM event that increases the most awareness,” said Mader. “On ‘Denim Day,’ we encouraged Soldiers to wear denim to work. We dressed up the dining facility in the SAAPM color, teal, and allowed Soldiers to write on teal pallets. Every Soldier walked by our tables while we passed out information and handouts. The brigade leadership participated by ceremoniously cutting a cake, baked to look like a denim jean pocket.”

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“’Denim Day’ was added to the SAAPM curriculum after a controversial ruling by a court from a different country. The judge ruled ‘not-guilty’ in a rape case, citing that the female victim was wearing tight jeans. Apparently, the judge believed the woman could not have been raped while wearing jeans because they are too tough to undo. We wear denim to show support for victims and survivors, but also to raise awareness about reporting and prevention.”

Although SAAPM is a good reminder for Soldiers and Families, it’s only one month out of the year. If we want to eliminate sexual assault and sexual harassment, we need to work together to combat this corrosive behavior every single day using intrusive leadership and by establishing a cohesive team. We need to see each other as family and treat each other with dignity and respect, Mader said.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment, call the U.S. Army Hawaii SHARP hotline at +1-833-727-2808. If you’re reading from outside of Hawaii, call the DoD Safehelp Line at +1-877-995-5247. For more information, visit www.safehelpline.org