JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Helping to promote a sincere culture change in Sexual Assault and Harassment Prevention is retired Edward “Obbie West” Wilson, a retired Soldier and spoken word artist.
Wilson spoke on sexual assault and harassment prevention in the latest U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Leader Professional Development live webinar. Wilson is a poetic speaker who travels worldwide to share his message with U.S. military members, academia, and community organizations. He discovered the power of spoken word while he was on active duty at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, at a poetry slam.
“My disdain for abuse came out through poetry. Thus the reason I am here, and why I do what I do,” Wilson said.
Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, commanding general, U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training, hosted the webinar, which is an interactive discussion series featuring subject matter experts who help educate about the Army Profession, develop people of character, and drive culture change.
Wilson opened the virtual discussion with a leadership poem, a piece awarded first place in the Department of the Army, Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware Communications Award for Long Form Production Video.
Through Wilson’s poem, he expressed clear leadership guidance, stating: “I am a strategic leader. Held at high regard but still grounded enough to connect with the root of the issue. The pain inflicted on the most junior enlisted will still sit high on my priority list. And sexual misconduct will procreate hate creating enemies within our ranks.”
Wilson also emphasized that emotion is essential to eradicating sexually harmful behaviors in the Army and that it must begin with leadership. He explained that leadership is where the force looks for right or wrong behavior influences.
“How you show up, what you do, can easily and subconsciously become someone else’s guidance or permission to be,” he said.
Wilson shared that having high morals is critical in sexual abuse prevention. These morals serve as the roadmap for reshaping behaviors that are inconsistent with Army core values.
“Sexual harassment [prevention] cannot be just a professional attachment - but a moral attachment,” he said.
Wilson stated that data is not trainable in sexual assault and harassment prevention. In a previous SHARP training led by Wilson, out of 18 Soldiers, 17 had been sexually assaulted or knew of someone who was. Thus, creating a level of emotion without re-victimizing, aided the discussion on sexual assault and harassment prevention.
“There is no rehearsal when it comes to sexual assault and harassment. The only time we can recognize our inefficiencies is right before, during, or after a victim has been claimed,” Wilson said.
Creating a climate of respect and trust for every Army family member is an Army commitment, but he warned that a zero-tolerance policy does not make room for confident and safe reporting.
He highlighted the Army’s intent to reduce the stigma of reporting sexual misconduct, including balancing victim care and the interests of justice.
“I can tell you what the boss meant is we have zero tolerance for it. It means every time it happens, we are going to address it,” Wilson said. “How we address it is going to be dependent on the situation. But every time it happens, I want to hear [about] it. [I want to know] It’s never going to go unaddressed.”
The Army works to engage leadership at all levels to prevent sexual assault and harassment. Wilson’s presentation emphasized the intent to address the issue across every echelon and rank. And he encouraged peer-to-peer support.
Wilson stated that regardless of rank, empowered bystanders must act. Harmful behaviors must be stopped no matter who is doing them.
“Rank does not supersede right or wrong,” he said.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual assault or harassment within the Army, contact your SHARP representative or the DoD safe helpline for sexual assault support at 877-995-5247.