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FORT RUCKER, Ala. (January 24, 2013) -- Victims of sexual assaults sometimes find it difficult to find their voice and seek help, but the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program offers those who have been victims of sex crimes a way to find that voice.

SHARP is designed to educate Soldiers on how to prevent sexual harassment and assault, as well as report it when it does happen, according to Sgt. 1st Class Lashonda Prince, installation sexual assault response coordinator.

"If a Soldier feels that he or she is being sexually harassed or assaulted, they should immediately report it," she said. "It's a criminal act and sexual harassment can have serious effects on Soldiers."

Sexual harassment is defined as a form of gender discrimination that involves unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of sexual nature, according to the Army's policy on harassment.

The policy also states that any Soldier or civilian who encounters this type of harassment should report the incident through appropriate channels, and every leader must ensure that every incident is investigated immediately and thoroughly.

"As Army leaders, it is our duty to provide and maintain an environment of trust and respect for human dignity where workplace harassment, including sexual harassment, will not be tolerated," said the policy. "We must reaffirm a commitment to an environment of mutual respect, dignity and fair treatment."

Prince said that oftentimes these incidents go unreported because Soldiers are desensitized by these actions because they occur so often.

"There are a lot of times when Soldiers are unsure whether the behavior they are encountering is sexual harassment, but if they are unsure, they should contact me or their unit's SHARP officer right away and simply ask," she said.

Prince can be contacted at 255-3750, and there is also the SHARP hotline that Soldiers can call at 470-6629, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"The SHARP hotline offers support for victims in terms of making sure that their rights are protected," said Prince. "We will ensure that they have proper care as far as medical attention, counseling or protection against the offender. We will be with them every step of the way during the reporting procedure as an advocate."

Sexual harassment comes in different forms, according to Army Regulation 600-20, which include: verbal harassment, which includes telling of sexual jokes and using sexually explicit profanity; nonverbal, which includes staring at someone, blowing kisses, winking or displaying sexually charged photos or pictures; and physical contact, which includes inappropriate touching, patting, pinching and kissing.

The regulation states that all Soldiers and civilians have a responsibility to resolve acts of sexual harassment, and Prince agrees.

"A fellow Soldier should intervene to stop the incident without endangering themselves," she said. "They should report it to a supervisor, SARC, SHARP or victim advocate, staff judge advocate or call 911."

When reporting an incident, there are two ways that people can report sexual assault, said Prince -- restricted and unrestricted.

Restricted reporting allows for sexual assault victims to confidentially report an incident without disclosing the perpetrator. Those who decide to report an incident as restricted may still seek medical attention, but the assailant will remain unpunished and the victim cannot receive a military protective order, according to Prince.

Unrestricted reporting allows for the victim to receive medical treatment, counseling and an official investigation of the crime.

"The Army's policy on sexual harassment and assault is a zero-tolerance policy," said Prince. "Those types of actions foster a hostile environment and interferes with the workplace, and victims should know that we encourage them to do unrestricted reporting because it is the only means to hold the offender liable for their actions."