CAMP CASEY, South Korea – Sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military receive frequent media attention. Leaders at the most senior levels have taken steps to improve the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program. The question is, at the most junior Soldier level, is the SHARP program effective?
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently announced initiatives to improve efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault, to enhance the quality of the military investigative and legal processes, and to improve victim support.
“My job as the commander is to ensure that all Soldiers are treated with dignity and respect, no matter what their gender is, no matter what their duties are or what their rank is, and that all Soldiers will be treated that way in the brigade is my overriding objective,” said Col. Michael J. Lawson, the commander of 210th Field Artillery Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Leaders across the 210th FA Bde. are actively involved in the SHARP program, and their Soldiers are taking notice. Recently, 26 Soldiers from across the Thunder Brigade answered a series of questions about the SHARP program. These Soldiers included males and females ranking from private to captain and ranging in age from 19 to 54 years old.
Across the brigade, Soldiers are getting the SHARP message and what the program is all about.
According to Spc. David Rigaud, an armorer and supply clerk with 580th Forward Support Company, 1st Battalion, 38th Field Artillery Regiment, the unit takes sexual harassment and sexual assault very seriously.
“It’s not just degrading to a person, it’s degrading to a mission,” he said.
The majority of Soldiers agreed that the training they receive has an impact on them. Several Soldiers credited SHARP training with helping new Soldiers understand that sexual harassment and sexual assault are real issues that affect the military.
“I never thought stuff like this happens before I joined the military. The more people talk about it and the more open it is, it helps,” Rigaud, a native of Waianae, Hawaii, added.
Not only is the content useful, but the classes are frequent enough to keep it fresh in Soldiers’ minds.
“We make sure that everyone gets the training on it. No one really gets left behind or slips through the cracks,” said Sgt. Jacob Porter, the operations noncommissioned officer for 579th Forward Support Company, 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment and a native of Marietta, Ohio. “We talk about it in formations pretty regularly, so everybody knows, if they do need help, who they can come and see.”
Not all Soldiers have full confidence in the system, though. Some Soldiers were not comfortable taking an issue to the Unit Victim Advocate within their company, but nearly all trusted their chain of command to do something about a SHARP complaint.
“Absolutely, without a doubt. We saw someone go through the process because it was unrestricted,” said Pvt. Michael Nolan, a medic from Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 210th FA Bde. and a native of Corvallis, Ore.
Assessing the program as a hypothetical victim, most Soldiers said they think they would get the help they need as a victim.
“From what I’ve gathered from all the classes, the victim is pretty well taken care of,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Adams, a native of Mobile, Ala. and squad leader with 579th FSC, 6th Bn., 37th FA Regt.
However, some Soldiers also see very real reasons why a person would choose not to report an incident using the SHARP reporting options.
“You automatically think everybody’s going to find out about it, or what if they don’t believe you,” said Pfc. Stephanie Villalvazo, an orderly room clerk with 579th FSC and native of Denver.
Other concerns included fear that they may face negative consequences for making a report, embarrassment, and worries about privacy. The majority of these concerns can be attributed to stigmas and old ways of thinking, according to Porter.
“The Army has to change as an entire culture in the military,” he said. “People say ‘Don’t bring your problems to work,’ but if work is your problem, who are you going to take it to?”
Nearly every Soldier had a suggestion for making the program better. Many of them had the same ideas, particularly to improve the training sessions.
“Make people more comfortable talking about it,” said Villalvazo. “I think if they divide it more into smaller groups and not so much big classes that would make it better.”
In addition to smaller class size, Soldiers also want to get away from power point and make SHARP classes more engaging.
“I wish the classes would be more interactive, with real training [scenarios] and participation from the class,” said Pfc. Shin Do-hyun, from Gwacheon, South Korea, a healthcare specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 6th Bn., 37th FA Regt.
In addition, conversations with several Soldiers indicated that they do not fully understand the reporting options or the process that each follows. Many of the most junior Soldiers expressed that the primary deterrent from reporting an incident is the fear that the whole company or battery would know about it. Whether restricted or unrestricted, they did not trust that their report wouldn’t become public business.
Villalvazo’s suggestion to make the program more accessible is “reassuring more that it’s okay, that there are different options and that not all options make it public.”
Several female Soldiers also commented on the small number or complete lack of female Unit Victim Advocates in their units.
“Most SHARP representatives are male, and there should be more female representatives,” suggested Staff Sgt. Helen Tindall, from Wilmington, N.C., a motor transport operator with 580th FSC. 1st Bn., 38th FA Regt.
As SHARP continues to make headlines, 210th FA Bde. has already begun addressing its Soldiers’ concerns. Recently, the brigade hired a full-time, civilian, female victim advocate to provide assistance to Soldiers.
“My message as a commander to all the Soldiers in the brigade is, whether it’s a restricted report or an unrestricted report, victim advocacy is available to Soldiers,” said Lawson.
While there is no magic bullet to “fix” sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Army, deliberate steps and engaged leaders are making progress to build trust in their units, educating their Soldiers, and creating a climate of teamwork and respect.
The brigade is also changing how it trains Soldiers on SHARP. Soldiers now have monthly classes in platoon-sized and smaller groups that include local real-world scenarios, vignettes of recent cases, role-playing skits, and interactive, small group discussion, according to Sgt. 1st Class Dean Crist, the brigade sexual assault response coordinator and a native of Canton, Ohio.
The goal of the new training style is to help Soldiers develop a clear understanding of how prevention, reporting, response and accountability in the SHARP program really work, Crist added.