As the Army works to ensure dignity and respect within its Soldier and civilian workforce, there is a growing reliance on the resources that can build a support network for employees who have been victimized by sexual harassment or assault in the workplace.
During the Army Materiel Command’s recent SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) Summit, professionals heard not only from senior leadership and fellow SHARP program managers but also from professionals from resources outside the SHARP arena that provide a wide range of support for sexual harassment/assault victims.
“With the SHARP Summit, we bring in all of our team members from AMC’s major subordinate commands and we work together collectively to learn how to better assist victims. There are always new professionals who need to build their knowledge base and network, and there are always new regulations and policies, and new environmental concerns to review and discuss,” AMC SHARP Program Manager Kim Green said.
“This year – with the theme Building Cohesive Teams through Character, Trust and Resilience – we also brought in support organizations that we, as SHARP professionals, work with to provide victim assistance. Together, we can learn how to assist each other in helping victims.”
SHARP professionals require extensive training because of the sensitivities and special needs they must respond to when assisting victims, AMC Sexual Assault Coordinator Maureen Trainor said.
“This is a specialized field that requires a lot of training and commitment. The summit helps to fulfill the training requirement and also to assist our junior SHARP professionals to develop their victim advocacy skills,” Trainor said.
This year’s summit was kicked off by Lisha Adams, the executive deputy to AMC’s commanding general, who said the summit is an opportunity to exchange ideas and build the SHARP team across the AMC enterprise.
“We really do appreciate your support and your participation in this summit,” Adams told the SHARP Summit attendees. “We want you to have conversations, provide feedback and ask questions. We want to learn from you from the lens of your role with SHARP. We want you to learn from each other.”
The annual event allows SHARP professionals to review the program’s accomplishments in helping to provide a safe and secure work environment, and to identify areas where more effort is needed.
“Are we making a difference? Are we doing everything we need to do? Are there things we can do differently for a better program and to achieve more results?” Adams asked. “We need to challenge the status quo. We need to look at where we can improve going forward. As we chart the path ahead, we must be dedicated to training and developing our workforce.”
The SHARP program aligns with the Army’s number one priority – people – as it works to provide a safe, positive, productive and inclusive work environment.
“People matter. We need to help everyone to feel they are treated with dignity and respect, that they have a safe workplace and that they trust leadership will take action when needed. We need to encourage and support each other so that every one of us can contribute,” Adams said. “We need to recognize that it’s the responsibility of all of us to intervene and act to prevent incidents of sexual harassment and assault.”
Among the SHARP Summit presenters, attendees heard from both victim advocates and victims themselves, including Sgt. Maj. Aaron Stone, who recounted how a rape when he was a teenager affected him both personally and professionally in his adult life. Stone has shared his story with several Soldier units in hopes of helping other victims who may be afraid to publicly speak out against their attacker.
“Rape is a dirty, four-letter word. It is painful, ugly,” Stone said. “All I was thinking about at that time was survival and wanting it to be over. Victims tend not to remember exact details of rape because their brain shuts down, they don’t want to remember. … As a Soldier, war kept me busy and kept my mind off things. I did suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. But it wasn’t from conflict. It was from this rape from so long ago. It was still debilitating to remember.”
When sharing his story, Stone stresses that it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help and that a victim is not to blame for what happened. “This is about changing the culture, starting a new paradigm, where Soldiers who have been victimized can get the help they need,” he said. “I talk about what happened to me because I want to get it out from the shadows and to give victims the courage to seek help.”
Other SHARP Summit speakers shared information about resources available to victims of sexual harassment and assault, including:
Capt. Joseph Ragukonis, special victims counsel – The program, implemented through the Office of the Secretary of the Army, provides legal assistance and advocacy for Soldiers or former Soldiers who are victims of sexual crimes along with family dependents of Soldiers and Soldier retirees, if the time limit prevails accordingly. Legal assistance also extends to victims of domestic violence if the victims are family members of a Soldier. The sexual assault coordinator or victims advocate works as “personal support” to the victim when the SVC is involved with the case.
Wanda Gilbert, Employee Assistance Program – This confidential, voluntary and no-cost program is available to any Redstone Arsenal employee, provides support and resources to address a wide variety of personal issues, including substance abuse, financial issues, mental health issues, family concerns and workplace conflicts. In the case of sexual harassment/assault, EAP can assist with providing counseling on self-care. Employees may “self-refer” and do not need supervisor approval to visit EAP.
Ben Pickens, AMC command counsel – This office provides guidance and counsel pertaining to equal employment opportunity complaints of unlawful discriminatory harassment, harassment allegations of a criminal nature, and Army civilian sexual harassment policies. Command counsel provides guidance on the roles and responsibilities of supervisors and management officials in response to sexual harassment complaints from both civilian and military, how to report harassment, how inquiries into allegations of harassment are conducted and confidentiality.
Helen Smith, FBI Victim Assistance Program – The program was established in 2001 as a result of the U.S. attorney general’s guidelines to expand and enhance the FBI’s victim assistance efforts. Smith acts as a liaison between the FBI and the victims of crime, coordinating forensic interviews and exams; providing referrals for counseling, medical and legal services; coordinating other professionals involved to help the victim, keeping the victim notified of the status of an investigation; and providing victims with information on the crime victim compensation program.
“All these resources can be important for a victim’s reporting and recovery from sexual harassment or assault,” Green, the AMC SHARP program manager, said. “In every way, we do what we can to prevent sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. But, if it does happen, we want to make sure victims have the support they need to overcome.”
For more information on AMC’s SHARP program, call 450-7818 or