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The Army began its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program to eliminate sexual harassments and sexual assaults. The SHARP Program tries to do that by changing the culture through education and prevention. The SHARP Program has been around for years yet there is still a sharp rise in military sexual assaults today. That means current methods are not working efficiently and we need to change the way we train to prevent this from happening in the future.
Currently, the Army mandates units to conduct an annual face-to-face training using the Army Training Network’s approved Training Support Package. This annual face-to-face training is very structured with statistics and reporting information that all Soldiers need to know. The power point and briefing is the same every year. The training teaches us what is right and wrong, reporting options, and who to go to for help. However, it does not teach Soldiers who have never encountered this type of scenario how to successfully intervene when faced with the situation. It’s easy to think while sitting in a classroom setting “if I see this happen, I’ll do this”. When faced with a real situation, not many will actually put their thoughts into action simply because they do not know how or have the courage to do so.
In order to fix this problem, we need to change how we present the material. Sitting in a classroom for two hours, clicking through a power point presentation by the same speaker every year does not teach Soldiers how to interact with victims nor confront offenders appropriately. We need real scenarios for Soldiers to practice with. Soldiers need to face someone and learn how to respond to the person’s words and actions. As Soldiers role play with various scenarios, they will gain the experience and confidence to quickly identify when someone needs help and step up to intervene.
One way for Soldiers to train with real scenarios is by using the Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment (ELITE) program. ELITE is a simulation training platform that assists with these real-life scenarios and interacting with victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. This interactive experience will help Soldiers who have never personally encountered a SHARP victim learn what to do and say to them. Real scenarios can also help Soldiers gather their thoughts and courage on how to confront the perpetrator, which is just as important. Confronting the perpetrator may help in preventing an already bad situation from escalating or happening again.
Not only do Soldiers need to gain experience from role playing scenarios, leaders need to be more engaged with their Soldiers. Good Soldier interaction, regardless of rank and age, will keep leaders informed of what kind of Soldiers they have in their formations. Leaders should know Soldiers’ interests and personal goals, along with any issues they are having. This level of personal invested interest lets the Soldiers know that leaders care about them as a person and not just as a number that has to stay GREEN. Soldiers will then be more likely to approach leaders for assistance if issues arise. This is especially important for the young Soldiers, 17-24 year olds, who are new to the Army environment and are at the highest risk of sexual assaults.
These new Soldiers who are starting their adult lives in the “real world” are looking to others to see what the expectation is. If they start their Army careers in a unit where hazing initiations are customary, with all the unit leaders involved, they will not be able to trust anyone when these initiations cross the line. Sexual hazing is a form of harassment and can easily turn into sexual assault. If these Soldiers have no one to turn to, they will not be productive to the unit due to their troubles. As leaders, we need to tell these young Soldiers that sexual harassment and sexual assault is not the norm and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.
If we give them a safe environment to succeed, they will do great things in the Army without worrying about things that should not be occurring in the first place. With strong leadership, these young Soldiers will know when something is wrong and how to properly intervene. They will grow to recognize that they have the power to make a difference. This determination will stay with them throughout their Army careers. They will become strong leaders and impart that onto their young Soldiers. With each wave of new Soldiers, the unit will become strong enough to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault problems. This is how we change the Army culture.
In conclusion, to reshape the Army culture to educate and prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault, we need to provide real SHARP scenarios and have strong leadership who are more engaged with Soldiers. Real SHARP scenarios and exercises will better prepare Soldiers when faced with the real problem. Strong leadership engagement will make the leaders more approachable and reliable to help Soldiers when needed. Strong leadership engagement will also help in eradicating the issue since Soldiers know it will not be tolerated.
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