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Sexual Assault Response and Prevention in the US Army

The Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program in the United States Army. It is an integrated and proactive effort to address sexual assault within the ranks of the armed forces. Sexual prevalence rose by 1.4% for women to a total of 5.8%, and 0.7% for men over 2 years (Rempfer, 2019). Department of Defense data suggests an annual jump in reports filed between 3 and 13 percent in recent years, with the number of cases rising from 15,000 in 2016 to 20,500 in 2018 across all its branches (Maucione, 2020). Due to public and political pressure in several high-profile cases, SHARP was created as part of the initiative to establish a structural response task force within the Army and address rising sexual harassment and assault cases.

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The mission of the SHARP program is to enhance Army readiness and improve culture by preventing and responding to instances of sexual harassment, assault, and retaliatory behaviors while offering appropriate response and support services. The program is comprehensive, including full-time staff, training material, and social presence in Army ranks. The premise of SHARP is that it applies to everyone, ranging from Pentagon leadership to individual soldiers. It is driven on the basis that commanders and leaders establish the necessary climate, culture, and safety as well as bear the responsibility for accountability, assessment, and safety of reporting in their respective units. A significant emphasis of the program is dedicated towards training soldiers to alert and intervene to stop offender tactics and incidents, while also providing commanders with the resources and education necessary to recognize and prevent sexual misconduct in the Army (U.S. Department of Defense, n.d.).

Alongside increased training, resources, and response capabilities to increase prevention, investigation, and prosecution of offenders, the SHARP program aims to reform culture. Unfortunately, both empirical and anecdotal evidence indicates a prevalence of sexual harassment. It is something that leadership has turned a blind eye to for years while negatively pressuring victims. SHARP seeks to reduce stigmas of reporting the harassment or assault by either victim, commanders, or observers as well as dedicating means towards protecting and supporting victims (U.S. Army, n.d.). The Army emphasizes that the SHARP program was developed on the underlying principles that guide respect among service members.

Despite significant progress in addressing sexual assault in the military, instances of both assault and harassment are rising. This was demonstrated by the recent death of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillen who was found dead outside of Fort Hood and was supposedly killed as a victim of sexual harassment. The SHARP program allows for anyone to report sexual harassment within 14 days of basic training and the Defense Department has taken measures to train junior leaders and first-line supervisors in addressing inappropriate behavior. However, SHARP is criticized as not being enough as investigations have shown that the program operates at its intended standards but continues to miss instances of harassment as demonstrated in the Guillen case. Critics argue that the program does not do enough to change the culture, with soldiers continuing to be hesitant to report harassment. Meanwhile, training on the issue is repetitious rather than challenging and inclusive as would be beneficial in such cases (Maucione, 2020).

SHARP is a vital initiative in the Army to address a prevalent issue of sexual harassment and assault, particularly towards women or soldiers of non-traditional sexual orientation. It is a program designed on Army principles and values while also encompassing modern standards of diversity, equal opportunity, and response prevention (Hawkins, 2020). However, the program is not a complete solution to the problem, and further action should be taken based on the foundations laid by SHARP to drastically reduce instances of sexual harassment and assault in the Army, as it has tremendous long-term implications for the reputation and morale of the armed forces.

References

U.S. Department of Defense. (2016). Enclosure 1: Department of the Army Web.

Hawkins, K. (2020). Respect lays foundation for Army value system. The Redstone Rocket.

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Maucione, S. (2020). Army says junior leaders are not handling sexual harassment correctly. Federal News Network. Web.

Rempfer, K. (2019). Sexual assault numbers, suicides on the rise: ‘Clearly we have to do something different,’ acting Army secretary says. ArmyTimes. Web.

U.S. Army. (n.d.). Sexual harassment assault response prevention (SHARP). Web.

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