SHARP Summit emphasizes empowering survivors

By Rachel PonderMay 15, 2024

Keith Smith, a male rape survivor shares his story.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Keith Smith, a male rape survivor shares his story during the SHARP Summit at the Mallette Training Facility May 2, 2024.

(Photo Credit: Photo by Rachel Ponder, CECOM PAO)
Maj. Gen. Robert L. Edmonson II gives welcoming remarks.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Maj. Gen. Robert L. Edmonson II speaks about the DOD’s “No Wrong Door” approach during the SHARP Summit at the Mallette Training Facility May 2, 2024. With this policy, a victim can report to any SHARP professional, regardless of chain of command or branch of service. This allows survivors to navigate the reporting process, case resolution, and recovery resources more easily and with less fear.

(Photo Credit: Photo by Rachel Ponder, CECOM PAO )

The seventh annual APG Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Summit was held on May 2, 2024, at the Mallette Training Facility and virtually.

Hosted by the APG SHARP Fusion Directorate, the event is held to show solidarity with victims and to reinforce the installation’s commitment to eliminating sexual harassment and assault from the workplace.

The event featured powerful testimonies from abuse survivors, a command message video from APG senior leaders, poetry written by members of the APG community, and local resource information. Over 100 people attended in person and more than 500 tuned in virtually.

This year, Team APG is raising awareness of male sexual trauma because it has historically been underreported and stigmatized. This effort was reflected in the event’s theme, “Breaking Silence and Reclaiming Strength Empowering Male Survivors.”

Maj. Gen. Robert L. Edmonson II, APG senior commander and the commanding general of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command, thanked the workforce for their continued commitment to creating a healthy and safe environment for everyone.

“Sexual assault can happen to anyone, no matter the age, race, gender, or even occupation,” he said. “The misconception is that it can’t happen to tough military men; that is a myth.”

Edmonson said according to the latest estimates from the Pentagon, more than 45 men in the armed forces are sexually assaulted each day. Despite this statistic, reporting rates are low.

“A 2022 report from the Pentagon [showed] that approximately 90 percent of men in the military did not report sexual assault they experienced in the past year,” he said.

According to Edmonson, low reporting rates can be attributed to the stigma around masculinity and reporting. Many men fear their claims won’t be taken seriously or leadership won’t provide help.

“We must work to not only believe victims and help them receive the resources they need, but to prevent these incidents from even occurring in the first place,” he said.

Edmonson encouraged attendees to become familiar with the services and resources provided by the SHARP Fusion Directorate.

“These folks are here for any victims, ready to help with reporting and healing,” he said. “The directorate has full, all-inclusive victim care services with victim care providers, law enforcement investigators, and criminal prosecutors all in one centralized location.”

With the DOD’s “No Wrong Door” approach, a victim can report to any SHARP professional, regardless of the chain of command or branch of service. He explained that this allows survivors to navigate the reporting process, case resolution, and recovery resources more efficiently and with less fear.

“In showing our solidarity for victims, male and female, we are also showing them that no one deserves to be assaulted regardless of their gender and reporting is the right thing to do,” he said. “It is up to each and every one of us to take on that responsibility to share that message.”

Addressing misconceptions

International spoken word artist and author Edward "Obbie West" Wilson, an Army veteran, gave several examples of why men might feel reluctant to report sexual harassment and assault. Men are conditioned from a young age to protect their masculinity at all costs, he said.

“Often the information we receive is attached to how we are supposed to look as a man,” he said. “It is attached to a very, very unhealthy definition of masculinity. A lot of times, that definition is more restricting and oppressive than it is liberating.”

Wilson said a large portion of society fails to acknowledge that male victimization is real.  However, at least one in six men has been sexually abused or assaulted. He urged men to speak out when they experience sexual harassment or assault, as they are underrepresented.

Male survivor speaks out

Keith Smith, a male rape survivor, shared his story about getting abducted, beaten, and raped by a stranger when he was 14. Smith said it took him more than three decades to be able to speak publicly about his experience.

“That guilt, that fear, and that embarrassment that lived with me for 35 years before I went public,” he said.

Smith now serves as a child advocate and shares his story to raise awareness of male sexual assault. He said he had received incredible support from friends, family, colleagues, and former classmates.

“They weren’t challenging my masculinity; they knew that somebody committed a crime against me,” he said.

Smith urged attendees to talk about the risk of child abduction and child abuse with their children.

“If they feel that people are looking for them, people are going to help, then the child might find some peace and hope in those thoughts.”

According to Smith, a perpetrator tells a child, “No one will believe you if you tell.” If a child knows that you will believe them, you have taken away the perpetrator’s leverage over the innocent child, he explained.

Smith said male sexual assault has nothing to do with the perpetrator or victim being gay.

“I was once asked, ‘What drives rapists?’ I tell them it is the same thing that drives car thieves or muggers or armed robbers; it is the desire to commit a crime,” he said.

Acting Joint Program Executive Officer for

Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Darryl Colvin closed the program. He challenged participants to have an ongoing conversation about eliminating sexual harassment and assault.

“The philosophy of ‘People First’ goes beyond managing and caring for our team members, it encompasses a creating an inclusive and positive work environment for all,” he said.

After the SHARP Summit, attendees talked to representatives from local organizations, and senior leadership participated in a breakout session to discuss the future of the SHARP program.

Ronnetta Church, JPEO CBRND, said hearing from survivors helped drive home the overall importance of SHARP.

“I can’t imagine anyone leaving here and not wanting to be an advocate and show more empathy because you just don’t know what others are going through,” she said.

Jennifer Blatter, SHARP Program Manager at the U.S. Army Materiel Command, said she appreciated hearing real stories from survivors.

“When you meet somebody that can tell you face-to-face, it happened to me, it could happen to you, I think it makes it more realistic,” she said. “It makes people more aware that this is happening.”

Important information

If you need to contact the Fusion Directorate for information or to report an incident, please refer to these resources:

APG 24/7 Sexual Assault Hotline 410-322-7154

DOD Safe Helpline 877-995-5247

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