The Bayonet

Wednesday, Apr. 09, 2014

Sexual assault and Awareness Month winning essay

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Speak Up: the Power of Individual Action

“We need cultural change where every Service member is treated with dignity and respect, where all allegations of inappropriate behavior are treated with seriousness, where victims’ privacy is protected, where bystanders are motivated to intervene, and where offenders know that they will be held accountable by strong and effective systems of justice.” — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel

Throughout history, the powers of individual ambitions and actions have compelled the masses to shape history. From Julius Caesar’s Roman Empire to the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, outstanding leaders and motivators have changed the course of history with words and pieces of paper. The United States Army’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program aims to do the same thing: change a mentality amongst the strongest and most technologically advanced military that the world has ever known.

While it may sound basic, this mentality is something that you wouldn’t think to find amongst an elite fighting force: it is fear. Fear of reporting something that you know is wrong, fear of being a “whistle-blower,” fear of consequences that do not exist. While a warrior can argue in their head about whether to report sexual assault or let the negative action pass, there can never truly be an argument whether a situation is right or wrong. This is what we must work toward: informing the force that using the individual voice to “Speak Up!” against sexual assault and harassment is the only way for us to move our organization to a new level of interpersonal cooperation that will allow us to be more successful than we ever have been.

Each of the Army’s seven Values, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage, can be used as an example as to why an individual should take every chance that they have to speak up against sexual assault and harassment. To quote the Intervene, Act, and Motivate (I. A.M) STRONG program:

“We are a band of brothers and sisters, placing mission first, never accepting defeat, never quitting and never leaving a fallen comrade. Our interdependence and shared respect among comrades frames who we are as a Team and an Army — a Team that finds sexual assault reprehensible and beyond toleration. Those who commit assaults hurt a member of our Team and wound our Army. This criminal act is cowardly and damaging to the very moral fiber that gives our Army its innermost strength.”

Every warrior has a duty to themselves, their battle buddies and the United States Army as a whole to use their voices to change the norm of fear. As our Army and country progress, we can expect to see more woman in military occupational specialties that were previously reserved for men. This is the next necessary step for our force’s progression as the military is a reflection of the civilian population.

Programs like SHARP are a solid step toward the goal of “speaking up,” but the motivation has to come from the individual warrior. We can’t rely on any number of briefs or presentations about what is acceptable and what is not; the change has to come from inside our own ranks. Every member of this organization has to believe that reporting sexual assault or harassment is the right thing to do. If we can implant the simplest idea of right and wrong and break the norm of silence, we can finally move forward and push our organization to strive for new goals as a more unified fighting force.

While progress may seem to be slow, warriors finally seem to be getting the message and stepping out of their comfort zones to report cases of sexual assault and harassment. Pentagon officials reported a 50 percent increase in Army reports of SHARP related incidents in 2013 (Baldor). While the numbers are alarming, the fact that they are being reported is a good thing. Army surveys show that between 2009 and 2012, female Soldier’s “propensity to report” having been the victim of sexual assault has increased from 28 percent to 42 percent (Lopez). As more warriors become aware that the Army takes sexual assault and harassment seriously, friends and co-workers will be able to get over their fear of reporting violations to their chain of command. While a victim may be too afraid to say something, that victim’s battle buddy, whether they know each other or not, can still be loyal and report instances of SHARP violations. In 2013, the Army implemented several Department of Defense directives related to combating sexual assault.

Another advantage to this increase in reporting is that more of the reported incidents are being made as formal complaints. Jill Loftus, director of the Navy’s sexual assault program, stated that “we are not seeing a perception that the number of incidents are going up; we have people who understand what sexual assault is” and that officials are hearing that more people are comfortable coming forward. Programs throughout the armed services have been started to react to specific instances where SHARP related incidents are prone to occur. These include broad pilot programs across posts and bases, such as cutting hours of alcohol sales and the use of roving patrols of service members looking out for troops in trouble. Loftus also stated that some commanders are making their courts-martial more public, publicizing the punishments for crimes, including sexual assault, and even holding cases on their parade fields, where all can watch (Lopez).

So what can you do? Be an active proponent in the success of your organization. Volunteer to be a SHARP representative. Use your ability to recognize possible negative situations and report them to the proper channels. Be the battle buddy that looks out for the well-being of your fellow warriors. Never leave a fallen comrade. Create and promote that positive environment, whether it is in the field, in garrison or off-duty. Building trust in your unit starts at an individual level: be the person that your battle buddies can come to in that time of extreme need. If you can educate everyone to the standard of what is right and wrong, you can help create that safe and successful environment.

Remember that you are not alone. Carolyn Collins, director of the SHARP program, stated that “The Army is committed to this effort. This is not a short-term effort, this is a long-term sustained effort and the Army has put the assets in place and is ensuring those assets are institutionalized and are growing to meet this challenge.” She acknowledged that change within an organization “takes time,” and that the Army is on an “aggressive timeline” to affect that change (Lopez). More programs and support systems are added to the Army’s vast network every day. If you need help or want to be more involved, look to your battle buddies and the chain of command for support.

Above all, “Speak Up!” The United States Army is counting on your voice.

Works Cited: 1. Baldor, Lolita C. . “Military Sex Assault Reports Jump by 50 Percent.” 2. C. Todd, Lopez. “Army continues to aggressively push sexual assault prevention, response efforts.”

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