There is no question: sexual assault is one of the most heinous crimes an individual can commit. The Army created the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention (SHARP) program to combat this issue. Implementing the program has gone a long way towards solving the problem; however, the steps the program takes to prevent sexual assault are a half-measure.
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This is because the SHARP program over-emphasizes the “”Army”” aspect of sexual assault. To solve the problem, we must focus the SHARP program on society as opposed to the military, hold soldiers accountable for the safety of their peers, and further stress the importance of reporting sexual assault.
Sex crimes are not unique to the military; this is a human problem. It must be addressed from a human perspective. We do a disservice to our service men and women by making the program about protecting the Army as opposed to protecting people. The front page of the SHARP website says “”Not in Our Army””. Are we only concerned about sexual assault within the ranks of the military? This approach is ineffective for two reasons: it gives the impression that the intent of the SHARP program is to fix the Army rather than prevent sexual assault, and it does not appeal to the emotions of the average soldier. Few if any individuals will have an emotional reaction to a call to improve the Army’s image. Take the Army out of it; appeal to the humanity of those who may be able to prevent future sexual assaults. It could be a fellow soldier; or it could be your mother, your daughter, or increasingly more likely, your son. That is how you drive the message home, and start solving the problem everywhere; not just at work.
The next step in solving the sexual assault problem in the Army is closely related to the first step: hold bystanders accountable. Not necessarily legally responsible (except under specific circumstances), but morally responsible. In the average SHARP training, the instructor will touch on every soldier’s responsibility to look out for his or her fellow soldiers. To the program’s credit, this is already a component of the training. But it is not emphasized to the extent that it should be. The implementation of more bystander-focused training was tested in 2011 by U.S. Army Europe, which showed a significant incline in bystander intervention (Potter & Moynihan 2011). The idea that you have a moral and potentially legal obligation to report certain behavior or intervene in a sexual assault needs to be a pillar of the SHARP program.
Reporting is the number one tool we can use to prevent future sexual assaults. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 22.9% of the 323,450 sexual assaults that took place in 2016 were reported to police (Morgan & Kena 2017). According to the Department of Defense, reporting in the Army community is estimated to be only slightly higher, around 1 in 3 (DOD 2018). This is unacceptable. Based on the number of assaults versus the number that gets reported to authorities, there is a serious societal detriment that comes from a lack of reporting, and the Army faces the same deficiency. The only way to attack the heart of the issue is to appeal to the humanity of the victim, as we must appeal to the humanity of everyone in the Army. The SHARP program needs to stress that while victims of sexual assault have often gone through a terrible ordeal, they may be partially responsible for future assaults, just like any other bystander. By not seeking justice and reporting the assault, you send the message to your attacker that they are free to continue that behavior. The power stays in the hands of the predator. The SHARP program needs to address this by stressing that victims of sexual assault have a moral obligation to their fellow soldiers to make a report.
Here’s the bottom line: when it comes to fixing the Army’s sexual assault problem, everyone needs to start making some hard choices. Military leaders need to make the SHARP program about people and not the Army, every soldier needs to take ownership for the safety of their peers and intervene early and often, and even the victims of sexual assault need to know that if they are silent, they are complicit. There never has been and never will be a comfortable way to deal with sexual assault. It is an uncomfortable topic, especially when dealing with the victim whose life will never be the same. But if we have any hope of ending sexual violence for good, we have to do what soldier’s do best: look out for each other, and attack the problem head-on.
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