Since 2008, the Army has implemented the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program to “”prevent incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault before they occur.”” SHARP is one of the most important programs in the Army. Not only is it a tool for training and education, it aids countless victims in reporting incidents of sexual harassment and assault. It has come a long way in two decades, with its origins in SAPR and POSH.
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SHARP holds command teams accountable for the climate they create and strengthens individuals to “”Intervene, Act, and Motivate.”” Although it is important for the Army to change its culture, SHARP continues to pave the way for breaking down stigmas.
In 1996, two big scandals from Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Leonard Wood rocked the Army concerning sexual assault from officers/non-commissioned officers and their female trainees. The Army was quick to respond by instituting a committed hotline for reporting incidents. However, many of the accused walked away from the scandals without any major consequences. Also, there was still no formal reporting method available to victims. It was not until 2004 that the Army created the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program to provide better training and reporting procedures. Unfortunately, SAPR had serious deficiencies: the program emphasized that it was the commanders’ sole responsibility in preventing acts of sexual violence and training only grazed the surface. Its predecessor, Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH), was not much of an improvement.
The fusion of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and Prevention of Sexual Harassment transformed into the modern SHARP program we have today. The United States military has integrated it into every level of institutional training, as well as on an annual basis in a three-hour mandated discussion and online training. It empowers command teams, leaders, and soldiers to foster positive environments based on dignity and respect. It is also proactive in imparting thorough education on the processes of reporting and resources available to victims. Many detractors of SHARP question the effectiveness of the program. According to Dr. Christine T. Altendorf, although there are a growing number of reports each year, the actual prevalence of sexual assault is going down. “”The decline in prevalence combined with the increase in reports, suggests the Army’s efforts to prevent sexual assault and reduce the stigma of reporting are having a positive effect,”” she concludes.
Furthermore, SHARP continues to change and evolve with the times. In 2018, they announced they are closing on plans for a Male Survivor Tour to begin in 2019. In the past, SHARP spotlighted male predators preying on female victims. Current research shows that there is more male-on-male sexual misconduct than ever before. A key element to this new training is the Digital Survival of Sexual Assault module. Soldiers will have the opportunity to engage in a life-like conversation with a real survivor. Although the responses are not “”live””, there are over thousands of potential replies available to keep the conversation feeling as authentic as possible. The program’s initiative to highlight survivors and their stories is going to be pivotal moving forward.
The SHARP program is not perfect by any means, but it has become a crucial advocate for those affected by sexual harassment and assault. Although It is going to take years to address the underlying issues imbedded in the armed forces, the platform offers valuable information on perpetrator tactics and reporting processes. For victims and survivors, SHARP supplies meaningful support and encourages them to seek proper outlets. The program may have had a rocky foundation at the start, but it continues to develop its training to better tailor to the masses. I have faith it will progress until “”the enemy within our ranks”” is gone.
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