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WASHINGTON - The Army is "breaking new ground" in efforts to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault in the ranks, according to a top Army official.
"We like to lead from the front and that is part of our campaign efforts," said Carolyn Collins, the deputy director of the Army's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
"This is the number one priority for the Army, it's the number one priority for the secretary of Defense and the Department of Defense, and we really need to ensure the training and the standards reflect the emphasis the senior leaders have placed on this issue," she said.
The efforts include the establishment of a SHARP Academy, which offers several weeks of instruction to sexual assault response coordinators, victim advocates and trainers.
The previous SHARP training for certification was 80 hours, Collins said.
The increased training through the SHARP Academy was established as a result of the concerns that Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno received from SARCs, VAs, and victims. They told him that training beyond 80 hours was needed, so he directed the establishment of a centralized SHARP school house.
The academy, which was launched with a pilot course in January, delivers a seven-week course for SARCs/VAs, and a 12-week course for trainers. The Army is in the process of developing a 10-week program manager course for brigade level and above, Collins said.
Graduates will go back to their command to instruct others and advise their commander. Collateral personnel, battalion level and below, will continue to receive the 80 hours of training.
The SHARP Academy training will give the Army "well-rounded professionals" in addressing prevention and response, and solid advisers in the commands, Collins said.
"It is to really set the standard for the nation on how we effectively address this issue and work cultural change in the Army," she said.
The Army can be very proud of its efforts, she said, noting it is conducting what she believes to be the longest course offered anywhere to tackle the issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The Army makes a concerted effort to address harassment in its prevention efforts as well, Collins said.
"We are really looking to set that cultural change and to really engage prevention before we even have a harassment incident, no less an assault incident," she said.
Survey data show that at least a third of sexual assault victims were harassed before they were assaulted, and the abuse wasn't stopped at the harassment level, Collins said.
The message is out there that sexual harassment and sexual assault will not be tolerated and perpetrators will be held accountable, she said. Commands must also ensure a climate of trust in which people are willing to come forward to report abuses, she said.
In fiscal 2013, 2,149 sexual assault cases reported - a 51 percent increase in reports compared to fiscal year 2012.
An increase in reporting leads Army officials to believe it may be an indication of greater confidence in the Army and its stance against sexual abuse, Collins said. The Army is also exploring the possibility of a new SHARP military occupation specialty, Collins said, but there would have to be upward mobility in the field if a position were to be created.
Starting Oct. 1, 2015, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command will take over from SHARP the mission of the training.
The academy is to move from Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to its permanent location at a TRADOC site to be announced, Collins said.