By Mr. James Brabenec (IMCOM)October 11, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Fort Sill's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention office (SHARP) opened its doors Oct. 1 in Building 4700, Room 459, giving Soldiers and their family members another location to find help.
The office also has a 24-hour hotline, manned by trained personnel at (580) 917-4277.
"Doing SHARP the way we are now puts the responsibility of taking care of Soldiers, on Soldiers and commanders specifically," said Master Sgt. Wendell Huddleston, SHARP program manager. "I think it's going to be a good thing."
Huddleston relies on his two fully training NCOs, Staff Sgt. Nicole Grigler and Sgt. 1st Class Edward Emerling, installation victim advocate (VA) and sexual assault response coordinator (SARC) respectively, to meet the needs of those they serve.
The Army defines sexual assault as any physical contact of a sexual nature characterized by the use of force and done without consent. Harassment, including verbal or nonverbal cues, is saying something of a sexual nature or a form of discrimination and may include the harasser demanding favors.
Any actions taken by the office staff are determined by victim preference. Army regulations state the SHARP program advocates for victims of adult sexual assaults inflicted by someone other than a spouse or intimate partner. Though the program's focus is on Soldiers and their families, Emerling said the SHARP staff will assist any victim to find the proper advocacy services.
Regulations require family advocacy to handle cases involving children or domestic abuse however, SHARP trained FAP personnel may advocate for any sexual assault victim when the victim or command requests their assistance. These services are limited to victim response and do not include the full spectrum of SHARP program services offered by SHARP personnel.
SHARP personnel have been preparing for their opening over the past year getting their procedures in place and sending Soldiers to an 80-hour training course to become victim advocates and SARCs.
To be an advocate, the course includes a background check and verification the candidate isn't listed on the national sex offender registry. They must also be appointed in orders by their unit commander. The Fort Sill staff added an additional step - a certification program specific to the post. Emerling said this training acquaints VAs with all the resources, their locations, personnel and contact numbers available on Fort Sill. Also, staff members will take VA candidates to a courtroom where a prosecutor will explain what a victim can expect during the legal process so advocates can explain that.
Grigler highlighted some of the assistance staff members can provide victims.
"We offer services such as medical treatment or to be seen in the emergency room for acute care. We also offer a sexual assault forensic exam if the victim chooses that, counseling services, and should the victim want to press charges or go the legal route, we'll stay with him or her throughout the duration and represent the victim," she said.
Emerling said whatever the victim wants is the service they will provide.
"We're not here to make suggestions, just to advocate for victims and get them what they want," he said. "We will explain the options to the victim so he or she can decide which course to take."
Those options are either a restricted or unrestricted incident report.
Through the restricted report, the victim can get medical attention, get a forensic exam done and pursue counseling options. Because the report is restrictive, an investigation won't be started and the chain of command won't be informed. Also, it ensures everything told to an advocate, nurse, chaplain or counselor is done in confidence.
"We get the victim what he or she needs while respecting his or her right to privacy," said Emerling.
People who elect this course may later change to an unrestrictive report that will initiate an official investigation into the crime and notification of the chain of command. This report still protects victims' privacy, because release of incident details is limited to only those personnel who have a legitimate need to know.
Coming from her primary MOS in supply, Grigler has served as a victim advocate. Although she stated her first duty as an NCO is to take care of Soldiers, her reasons for serving in this capacity have a deeper meaning to her.
"I'm very caring by nature and almost protective. You see people at their worst, but getting them the help they need and what they want is very rewarding. Just making sure the victim is taken care of and his or her needs, that we can provide, are being met is why I do this," she said.
The SHARP staff continues to train up people at all levels. Requirements call for brigades to have a full-time SARC and VA while battalions must have two additional duty VAs. Forces Command units are required to have battery level advocates, and though Training and Doctrine Command doesn't have a requirement, commanders may elect to appoint someone to this duty.
Emerling stepped away from his primary MOS in artillery to take on this position. He mentioned the Soldiers' Creed - to never leave a fallen comrade - as motivation to serve other Soldiers.
"Part of advocating and helping sexual assault victims means that you're picking up someone who is unable to take a step for themselves at that time," he said. "You're getting them from where they are to where they want to be."
He added a lot of people on post have received the SHARP training, and many are becoming VAs in their units. Anyone who believes he or she was a victim of a sexual assault can seek help from any VA or SARC on post; a chaplain, the Family Advocacy Program, Reynolds Army Community Hospital or the SHARP office in Building 4700.
"Wherever they feel comfortable reporting the incident, all these people are available. There are hundreds of people on post ready to help any Soldier [or victim] in need," said Grigler.