Social Emotional Learning Skills (SEL) and Their Role in Preventing Sexual Harassment and Sexual Ass
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There are five categories of social emotional learning skills: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. These skills help us cope with our feelings, set goals, develop interpersonal skills and resolve conflict. What happens when people lack these skills? Lacking these skills can lead to problems with resolving issues on one’s own, using ineffective coping mechanisms in risky situations, struggling to understand how others feel and other difficulties at work and in our communities.

“Empathy is extremely important for Soldiers and service members to have,” said Kristian Hall. Hall has served as North Carolina’s National Guard sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) and the DoD SAPR Program for13 years. He has also been a senior paralegal in uniform for the JAG program for 25 years. “Empathy is extremely important for service members in all aspects of everything they do, and not just how it relates to sexual harassment and sexual assault,” he says.

We can sum up social emotional skills as understanding ourselves, having empathy for others and being able to understand another’s thoughts and feelings in relation to our own. Psychology Today defines empathy as the ability to recognize, understand and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal or fictional character.

Empathy exists on a spectrum on which people may have a diminished capacity for empathy. People with a diminished capacity for empathy may think a tough situation couldn’t happen to them or that they’d manage it better, may make inconsiderate or harmful jokes about others, and may have friction in their relationships or no meaningful relationships. This diminished capacity for understanding others relates to victim blaming, coercion, ostracism and sexual objectification of others and can result in sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Jokes or inconsiderate comments about someone’s situation can make that person feel unsafe at work and in their community. A person who experienced sexual harassment may feel that they can’t report what happened to them, no one will take their situation seriously or no one will believe them. These beliefs affect the Army’s culture of trust. The importance of the culture of trust has become a major focal point as the Army creates new programs, such as the Integrated Prevention Advisory Group (I-PAG), a team that will review prevention initiatives and evaluate outcomes so that it can advise leaders on evidence-based actions that will foster supportive environments to encourage victims to seek help as well as result in fewer harmful behaviors. Initiatives like I-PAG ensure that Soldiers, their Families and the community feel safe and appreciated so they can focus on the mission at hand.

I-PAG will use a community-oriented approach to work with Army commanders to prevent workplace violence and implement integrated measures across the service. Skills that leaders, Soldiers and DA Civilians can work on now to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault in their workplaces and communities include conflict management and communication skills.

Conflict management may seem like an odd remedy for sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace since these situations are not disagreements between teammates, coworkers or leadership. Sexual harassment and sexual assault are both criminal nonconsensual acts that can cause physical and emotional harm to the victim. Unit commanders and others in leadership can use conflict management skills to build a supportive culture, both in the office and out on the field.

Appreciating others’ opinions and making others feel valued can help foster a culture of trust. This could mean listening to and sharing that you care about an individual and what they are going through and staying with them as they are connected to the right resource rather than just telling them about available resources. When leaders foster a culture of trust by considering others’ feelings, their Soldiers will feel safe sharing experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Further, they need to use the appropriate tools to address these serious issues.

“I truly believe that we need to get personal again. We need to know our people,” stated Hall. He recalls that when he was serving, an alert roster wasn't just a resource to use during an emergency or when called up for a mission. “An alert roster was super important to know up and down who our individuals were in our organization. We knew our spouses, children, their ages and birthdays, we knew our team and who we were, we took care of each other.”

Communications from the organization, leadership and individuals must reinforce there is zero tolerance for sexual harassament, sexual assault and sexually explicit conversations, content and jokes.

Hall says, “We have to stop putting the onus on the potential victim and identify predatory behaviors. That’s a great communication skill. Communicate what our boundaries are and what our rules and policies are as an organization. Communicate what our boundaries are and what our rules and policies are as an organization that we will not tolerate that.”

Individuals can speak up when someone makes them or others feel uncomfortable. Sometimes just letting a peer know what they are saying or doing is not acceptable can stop the problem.

Communicating clearly and setting boundaries from the start can set expectations and let others know what you are and are not comfortable with. Sharing with others that a safe workplace is important can influence others to set the example. Individuals can change what they are willing to tolerate from others, which can influence the community to change what it accepts as the norm.

“We struggle as an organization with empathy and emotional resilience and how important it actually is to be emotionally resilient, show emotions and ask for help, especially in our community, where history has told you to ‘suck it up’ for so long,” Hall says. “We’ve come a long way in the past 15–20 years, but we still have a long way to go.”

To learn more about the Integrated Prevention Advisory Group, visit: https://www.armyresilience.

The Army Resilience Directorate website offers resources on resilience that Family members and Soldiers can use to help them cope with daily stressors: