ORLANDO, Fla. - While the Department of Defense wrestles with effective methods of dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault, Maj. Gen. Bill Gerety, commander 80th Training Command (TASS), has decided to reach out to soldiers and civilians command wide for their individual perspectives on the issue.
As head of the third largest command organization in the U.S. Army Reserve, Gerety plans to use the various viewpoints to amend current policy that will encourage incident reporting and foster a climate that will reduce sexual harassment and assaults. He said that it's important to get the observations of individuals at various levels and to get them involved in proposing solutions.
"When I can sit at one level of an organization and not see a problem, or see the problem differently, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, nor does it mean that I understand its characteristics," Gerety said. "You have to go the source."
As a first step, the 80th TC hosted a gender specific Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention symposium in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 26 - Oct. 1, 2013. SHARP representatives and select command staff members facilitated the workshop, which included open forum discussions with male and female Soldiers together, as well as breakout sessions in which the genders were separate.
Participants from each subordinate command attended the three-phased event on designated days. Phase one reviewed the SHARP principles, which differentiates between sexual harassment and sexual assault. It also examined types of reporting and methods of prevention and intervention. Phase two consisted of smaller group discussions led by designated group leaders who asked a series of pre-determined questions designed to elicit participants' experiences, perceptions, and opinions.
"They're asking us these really hard questions that are sometimes uncomfortable to answer," said Sgt. 1st Class Christina Petersen, a Noncommissioned Officer Education System senior instructor and course manager assigned to10th Battalion 4th Brigade, 100th Training Division. "I realize now that sharing a personal story or talking about a really hard issue can make a difference in someone's life."
Phase three focused on recommending solutions designed to minimize sexual harassment and assault with emphasis on promoting a safe comfortable training climate.
Participants submitted written suggestions and comments, which Gerety and William Downey, the 80th TC's SHARP program manager, will review and use to impart change across the 80th.
"I think that every command should be doing this," said Master Sgt. Lawanda Hawkins, an event facilitator who is also the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and SHARP representative at the 94th Training Division. "You should have a symposium as opposed to death by power point. You should get the feedback and you should listen to what Soldiers are telling you."
As an example, Hawkins referenced a group discussion with 100th Training Division soldiers who said the unit level SHARP training they previously received was ineffective and they don't trust the Army's methods of handling sexual assault and sexual harassment.
"We need to change that," Hawkins said. "Let's see if we can affect change by listening to what the Soldiers have to say."
Staff Sgt. Stephanie Redding, a combat medic instructor assigned to 4th Brigade 100th Division said this symposium was different compared to the way the Army normally handles serious issues like SHARP.
"We had the ability to converse about how to fix it and start at the bottom," Redding said. "It's not just, 'you need to follow this policy'…They're asking how to rewrite the policy, they're asking how to change it."
Staff Sgt. Theodore Simmons, a communications specialist instructor with the 100th Training Division, said the small group discussions were the most effective part of the workshop.
"In a large group you're not gonna talk about those issues because no one feels comfortable," Simmons said. "In the smaller groups you can be more personal."
Gerety said the symposium presented the soldiers in attendance with an interim success factor because of the questions and comments they want the leadership to consider.
"If we just spend these four days and don't do anything then we've wasted a lot of people's time and a lot of money and a lot of opportunity," said Gerety, who conceived the symposium's bottom up approach after watching soldiers' stories during congressional testimony. "It's what comes of it that's going to be important."