ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – April is sexual assault awareness and prevention month, and I want to close out the month with some final thoughts. Much of our focus is turned toward the resources offered to survivors of sexual assault. We stress that Soldiers who are survivors of sexual assault and harassment are to be treated with dignity and respect. The Army encourages reporting, and thoroughly investigates unrestricted reports of sexual assault and complaints of sexual harassment. We hold offenders accountable for their actions, and we offer resources to help victims with the wounds left by the act.
There is one important word in the theme of the month that we must not overlook, however – Prevention.
Our new SHARP Fusion Center is a hub of all resources for sexual assault. While the aftermath of a sexual assault or harassment incident can be difficult to navigate, the Army is piloting a program to make this process as simple as possible. The SHARP Fusion Center has all the resources in one place, from legal to counseling services, victims will no longer have to seek out assistance across the installation. Our trained victim advocates are standing by, ready to help.
This year’s SAAPM theme is “Prevention starts with you.” Prevention can be defined as “the act of stopping something or ensuring something never happens.” While it is the responsibility of every member of the Army team – Soldier, Civilian, and contractor – to prevent sexual assault, harassment and associated retaliation, prevention must begin with our leaders. Leaders set the tone and culture of the entire organization, building an environment which breads accountability, trust, respect, and zero tolerance for any of these behaviors.
I can recall a time when I arrived to an organization as the new battalion CSM and witnessed a senior NCO behave inappropriately with his colleagues. While he saw this behavior as a joke that his fellow Soldiers were a part of, I stepped in and helped him understand that how an action is perceived is just as important as the intent behind it. I knew it was up to me, as a leader, to set the tone for the culture and work environment.
This month, and every day, I challenge you to focus on prevention. While it is important to support and empower survivors, we need to ensure we’re putting ample energy into preventing these terrible incidents from happening in the first place. What are you doing to help change the culture? Every single one of us can help make a huge difference in keeping each other safe and moving forward together. From pointing out how a behavior could be perceived, to speaking up for those who may not be able to, there are simple steps we can take to help change the Army and make it a safer space for all our Army teammates.
Normalize treating others with respect. The bottom line is trust. We must trust that we have each other’s backs, and that includes trusting that we will only treat one another with trust and respect. Every member of our team is someone’s child, sibling, and/or parent.
We must treat our team like we do our family.
CECOM Command Sgt. Maj.