News: JBLM stands up to sexual harassment, assault
Story by Staff Sgt. Mark Miranda
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – Sexual crimes have been a hot-button issue as an insider threat to the Army profession, its values and culture. In response, soldiers at JBLM took part in seminars aimed at reducing the number of sexual assaults across the installation June 18-20.
Units focused on their Sexual Harassment, Assault Response and Prevention programs, following guidance from Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno.
“We will shape Army culture based on values, standards, and discipline consistent with the Profession of Arms and ultimately win our campaign while holding accountable those who commit sexual harassment or sexual assaults but also, as important, to those who just allow it to occur,” Odierno said June 10, during a two-day summit on sexual harassment, an initiative launched by Secretary of the Army John McHugh.
Leadership began the training by watching the 2012 documentary, “The Invisible War.”
The film features interviews with veterans from several branches of the U.S. Armed Forces who talk about the events surrounding their assaults. They told stories of reprisals and slack resolutions for the survivors. The documentary also calls for changes to the way the military handles sexual assault.
The documentary was shown to prompt discussion among unit leaders, who would then direct discussions with groups of their Soldiers.
By engaging in open and honest discussion, both leaders and Soldiers were forced to look at their own culture, environments and factors that have allowed sexual assaults to occur in the past.
“We’re training our soldiers in what they need to be doing to take care of each other,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, commanding general, 7th Infantry Division. “It’s a holistic look at reaffirming the bonds of trust that unite us together and then reaffirming what we need to do to mitigate sexual assault in our Army. “
Soldiers also learned about programs supporting the SHARP initiatives. The Army has five imperatives that guide the efforts to battle sexual harassment and assault.
“The first is about prevention, establishing the conditions in our organization to prevent this,” Lanza said. “Second is investigation - every allegation is professionally investigated by the Criminal Investigation Division. The third and probably most important is to sustain a climate of trust and a command climate that is conducive to dignity and respect in our organizations. The fourth is accountability; accountability for those who commit these crimes and for the commanders who have to enforce values in these organizations.”
The fifth imperative is a fully engaged chain of command, one that restores the trust of its soldiers and is at the center of solutions to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault, Lanza added.
The Army is screening SHARP Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Victim Advocates, recruiters, drill sergeants and Advanced Individual Training platoon sergeants. It has integrated SHARP into Professional Military Education and operational unit training. The Army is hiring additional SHARP Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, Victims Advocate and trainers.
At JBLM, a collaborative effort is underway to create a sexual assault response team, the first of its kind. Tentatively called a SART, it will combine resources of medical examiners, Criminal Investigation Division and Judge Advocate General legal services.
“The idea of us working together is that we can provide a better continuity of care for the victim, so that person doesn’t get left behind,” said Lt. Col. Robert Stelle, Chief of Complex Litigation, I Corps JAG Office. “The service providers help in a way tailored to the specifics of each victim’s circumstance and respect the unique roles of the different professionals involved in responding to sexual assault.”
A SART works to ensure justice and create a more compassionate and streamlined response, according to Stelle. It works with a unit’s SHARP coordinator, and makes a victim’s needs the priority. The core members of a SART typically include law enforcement officers, forensic medical and sexual assault nurse examiners, forensic laboratory personnel, and prosecutors.
“It means a more effective delivery of services, and it already exists successfully in the civilian world. We could be running full speed by the end of July,” Stelle said.
To go beyond just a day or two of training, leadership at JBLM is striving to change the Army culture by emphasizing a zero-tolerance attitude against sexual harassment and assault, something stronger than words written in a policy.
This attitude is meant to remove the stigma of reporting incidences of sexual assault. Master Sgt. Carol Chapman heads the 7th Infantry Division’s SHARP program and hopes that more cases are brought to light.
“A lot of the reports we’re getting are between a year to three years old. I’ve even had one that’s 10 years old but that’s because now they know - there’s a program that’s going to look into what happened to them,” Chapman said.
During past talks with soldiers on SHARP issues, feedback from soldiers revealed that many didn’t know who their sexual assault response coordinators were.
“We really publicize our unit victim advocates and Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, they are known to all our soldiers in our organizations,” Lanza said.
“We are carefully selective about our SARCs and UVAs, making sure that people assigned are personable, approachable and have the right skill sets for the position.”
Standing up to sexual assault is a campaign of prevention. The message to leaders was that they will set and enforce standards and discipline, and hold everyone accountable for their actions to create a climate free from sexual harassment and assault.
“We will never get to zero, but I want to establish a culture where this is not tolerated, it is not accepted, and all soldiers will be treated the proper way - where they can succeed in an environment that allows them to achieve their best potential,” Lanza said.