FORT LEE, Va. – Army leaders are implementing innovative, research-based instructional strategies in their efforts to raise awareness of and prevent sexual assault.
One example is how 266th Quartermaster Battalion victim advocates at Fort Lee recently came together and organized an art competition to underscore the importance of the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
Training and Doctrine Command recognizes art creation as a “top-level educational tool” for the acquisition of knowledge in its TP350-70-14, a document providing guidance and examples for organizations that develop training and education products for the Army.
“The Army is constantly evolving,” said Sgt. 1st Class Marc Hamilton, a drill sergeant for the U.S. Army Quartermaster School – part of the Combined Arms Support Command based at Fort Lee. “Leaders have to find a way to grasp and maintain the attention of the newer generation, and being innovative will show our future leaders that we are invested in their development by taking the time to do more than what’s considered the norm for training.”
The art contest resulted in a winning drawing that clearly goes beyond the norm. It portrays the struggles of a sexual assault victim, ranging from the anguish of reporting the incident to the fear of retaliation.
“I focused on invoking certain emotions,” said contest winner Pvt. Wendy Cortez, a culinary specialist in training with Tango Company, 266th QM Bn., 23rd QM Brigade, and a Pasco, Wash., native. “[The art depicts] what I would suppose the victims’ emotions, their thought processes, would be; the guilt, fear, anger toward themselves. I believe that the color red invoked those emotions.”
Cortez systematically researched sexual assault cases, reading poetry and victims’ stories. This helped better inform her creative choices and led to an art piece with great impact, she said.
“I wanted to show an unfiltered, uncensored image,” Cortez said. “I wanted to be straightforward and to the point as to what I learned sexual assault or harassment would be like, so I could elicit a feeling or response in someone who viewed it.”
Cortez said she spent time bringing out shadows in the piece because in reality someone could seem fine on the surface, but underneath he or she could be struggling with the pain of sexual assault or harassment.
“[I wanted] to bring out their inner feelings – like the dark, deep core emotions – because, for example, no one could guess that deep down inside a person is dealing with all these horrible experiences and battling emotions,” Cortez said. “They could think it’s their fault or feel anger that it happened to them.”
Impressed by the power of the drawing, Hamilton said all Army leaders should use art as an educational tool because it is a useful form of expression.
“Over the last two years as a drill sergeant, I’ve seen that many lower enlisted are not comfortable with expressing themselves through verbal communication,” Hamilton said. “This gives them the opportunity to express themselves and show their creativity to their senior leadership.”
The Army reinforces the role and responsibility of every member of its team to prevent sexual assault, sexual harassment and associated retaliation. An essential step in achieving that goal is for leaders and Soldiers to build comradery and trust amongst the ranks.
Cortez said she has been hearing the pitches for sexual assault prevention since basic training, and she has learned how to intervene in certain sexual assault and sexual harassment situations. It has made her more cautious and aware of how prevalent sexual assault is. She said her training informed her that sexual assault happens more in the Army than she would expect, and she embraces the opportunity to spread messages and raise awareness through art.
“Sexual assault shouldn’t happen in the Army because we’re all brothers and sisters,” Cortez insisted. “We’re all family, and we’re all wearing the same uniform. It’s something that can be prevented.”
Such comments serve as affirmation that continued innovations in sexual assault awareness and prevention training, as exemplified and designed by the 266th, are helping the Army’s newest generation of Soldiers to retain and take ownership of what they're learning and pay it forward by speaking up and raising awareness for the benefit of others.