SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (November 9, 2022) – The Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention office presented a unique training event November 9 focused on how culture influences sexual violence and its prevention.
The purpose of the two-session event was to raise awareness on the topic of sexual harassment and sexual assault in an unfiltered and direct manner.
Edward Wilson, a sexual violence prevention advocate and international spoken word artist, delivered the presentations both in person at SDDC’s headquarters and virtually to the command’s global workforce. He is a retired U.S. Army warrant officer who goes by the stage name “Obbie West.”
Wilson discussed the climate surrounding sexual assault and sexual harassment throughout the Army through the art of poetry, using a unique and captivating angle to acclimate Soldiers and civilians to the discomfort not inherent in mandatory annual SHARP training.
“There is no rehearsal when it comes to sexual assault and harassment,” said Wilson. “The only time to identify inefficiencies in sexual assault and harassment prevention is right before, during, or after a victim has been assaulted.”
“SHARP training reinforces the Army’s commitment to eliminate incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault, however it does not teach comfortability. We want to ensure that both Soldiers and civilians are comfortable about talking about this issue, so we can continue to ensure safety for our employees,” said Lisa Coleman, SDDC’s SHARP program manager.
Coleman added that having Wilson emphasize SHARP training through a different lens allowed for training participants to be fully engaged and more comfortable with the topics.
Wilson began his first session, titled “Leadership Influence Culture,” with a poem on leadership:
“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 with our ranks.”
He discussed leaders' responsibilities to instill trust and respect as the highest priorities for a command, explaining further that leaders must empower bystanders and provide junior enlisted personnel and civilians with the confidence to report assaults through trust and respect.
Wilson emphasized the importance of organizations having a climate of respect and trust to facilitate the confident and secure reporting of all levels and ranks. He also stressed the importance of peer-to-peer support in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust to allow expression of opinions on issues without the stigma of injustice or victimization.
“Rank does not supersede right or wrong,” said Wilson.
He noted that it’s important to keep the conversation going about sexual abuse after training to hold accountability and empower others to want to come forward comfortably about any issue.
"In the military, we train by data," explained Wilson. "Everything is measurable by score. I can take a physical fitness test to figure out my weak areas, and work on those areas to get better.”
He concluded his first session by emphasizing the significance of upholding issues as more than a score and exerting effort to ensure that the organization has those difficult conversations not only during training, but also afterwards, to bring light and openness to victim advocacy and reporting.
The second session was held in the afternoon on the topic of rape culture and bystander intervention. The presentation highlighted the Army’s intent to reduce the stigma of reporting sexual misconduct, including balancing victim care and the interest of justice.
Wilson explained that rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence is normalized and excused due to societal standards. He placed emphasis on shining the light on people who “hold the door” for people who have accusations against them. He covered the negative stigmas that contribute to the environment of rape culture and then included victim blaming as another key element that contributes to making accusations justified.
He began the second session with his most famous poem, a perspective of a perpetrator that won first place in the Department of the Army’s Maj. Gen. Keith L. Ware Communications Competition for Long Form Production Video, to bring light to the issue in a retrospect.
“Mr. Society, we appreciate your statement but the decisions and the charges of rape in the first degree, the defendant has been found not guilty,” started Wilson.
After finishing the poem, he described its meaning and the lesson learned from the piece. He explained that “Judge Culture” represents “the negative stigmas that perpetuate throughout society that incriminate people who come forward with an accusation.” He continued by stating that the defendant on trial, “Mr. Society,” is the rapist who demonstrates how he subconsciously used these stigmas, which in hindsight were used to beat the defense attorney and those who have allegations against him.
“Sexual assault is never justified,” said Wilson
He concluded the second session by stressing that no one should be blamed for sexual assault or sexual harassment and that society should not dismiss complaints based on rape culture or stigmas, but rather on intent.
Wilson’s training, while unconventional, was well received and generated positive feedback from participants, both virtually and in-person.
“Most SHARP training is ‘blah, blah, blah, always the same,’ but this was a terrific presentation with some powerful and well delivered messages,” noted one participant. “Very effective training!”
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 877-955-5247.