News: SAAM raises awareness, confidence in system
Story by Sgt. Ryan Hallock
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – During fiscal year 2013, there were 36 reported cases of sexual assault involving service members at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Those cases factor into the approximately 5,400 reported cases of sexual assault within the military during FY13. The number of reported cases has more than doubled since the initial 2004 Department of Defense annual report to congress.
The Army has since waged a war against sexual harassment and sexual assault with the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program and by designating April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).
SHARP educates Soldiers and civilians on reporting procedures, provides training on prevention techniques, and contributes to increasing the safety of Army communities.
“I believe education and awareness have greatly enhanced reporting, not only by victims but by bystanders as well,” said Sgt. 1st Class Tabitha Easley, Hotline Sexual Assault Response Coordinator/SHARP specialist. “Increased reporting also comes with confidence in the system and confidence in the support received.”
By now, the SHARP acronym is embedded in every service member’s military vocabulary. The resources available to them, however, might not be as well known, which is why the month of April can prove beneficial to the Camp Arifjan community and military communities across the globe.
It is a month full of activities such as: basketball, soccer, softball, football and volleyball, a 12-mile ruck march, and many other weekly events in support USARCENT’s mission of raising awareness and protecting the force.
“To dedicate a whole month and have different events going on let’s everyone know, whether you’ve been sexually assaulted or not, that it’s still an issue and there’s ways to prevent it,” said Spc. Kristin Lefeavers, who is organizing the SHARP basketball tournament.
She said people often ask her why she’s so passionate and involved during SAAM, and she shares with them her personal story of being sexually assaulted during her last deployment to Bahrain in 2010.
“It helped me to realize that no matter what you go through, you can always find the positives in every situation,” said Lefeavers. “I can go through a lot and still be OK. Do I have scars from it? Of course, but I would rather have those scars knowing I made it and knowing I found my strength.”
“SHARP is not just about people preaching to you,” she said. “It can be beneficial to you. I am so much more aware now than I was before; that’s why I’m such an advocate for sexual assault awareness.”
Lefeavers offers this advice: always travel with a battle buddy, whether walking to the gym or riding the bus.
“Sexual Assault Awareness Month helps people become more aware,” said Lefeavers, who explained SHARP training exercises gave her a broader mindset of prevention techniques. “It also lets people who have been sexually assaulted know they’re not forgotten, and they won’t be forgotten.”
There is a newly opened, centrally located 24/7 SHARP Hotline center available to provide Soldiers and civilians with SHARP assistance.
“Our goals are to continue to provide personnel with a private location that is always open and ready to provide SHARP services and support to sexual assault victims or sexual harassment complaints,” said Easley. “This reminds the community that combating sexual assault is the Army’s number one priority.”
The 24/7 SHARP Hotline center is located on Camp Arifjan in building T-181 and the Hotline number is 430-SHRP (7477).