FORT DETRICK, Md. (NNS) -- The Army calls it SHARP. The Navy calls it SAPR. The Department of Defense refers to it as SAPRO. Regardless of the name, the goal is the same - to stamp out sexual assault and harassment.
Naval Medical Logistics Command, stationed at Fort Detrick, kicked off its awareness program April 7 with an all-hands quarters.
The command's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response team, the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention team, and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Sexual Assault Response coordinators have joined forces to educate personnel in their respective services throughout April, Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month.
Routinely, in April, a great amount of attention gets narrowly focused on prevention activities. However, statistics show assaults and harassments occur throughout the year.
Media splashes countless images of victims being 'handled' by aggressors, and in many cases, those actions touch the hearts of those who commit to prevention, instead of being bystanders.
"I actually joined the SAPR team after seeing the damage sexual assault did to a very close, personal friend of mine," said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Joseph Toms. "The nightmare she went through was shocking.
"She held in the effects for a long time because she did not have anyone to speak with about her ordeal," he said. "I wanted to make sure that other people would not go through the same situation. I wanted them to know someone is available on a 24/7 basis, who is trained to handle these delicate situations."
The DoD stance on sexual assault and harassment is to eliminate it. The 2016 campaign slogan is "Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part. Do Your Part." In its letter to the department, it recognizes the 'momentum of building awareness of situations that pose a risk for sexual harassment, sexual assault, retaliation and other inappropriate acts,' and it asks department personnel to 'demonstrate the social courage to address harmful behavior.'
Toms said he could identify with that section of the signed sexual assault awareness prevention month memorandum that was distributed to all hands via DoD's SAPRO website.
"While you may not know it, there may be people living or working with you that may have gone through a sexual assault situation," Toms said. "They must deal with the terrible consequences related to their situation each day. We must be considerate of what the survivors have been through."
You might think that once a person has been sexually assaulted or harassed, they would immediately notify the authorities, someone in their command, a supervisor or even a friend. However, it has been proven that this simply isn't the case.
"Sexual assault is considered as one of the most underreported and prevalent crimes in society today," said Chief Hospital Corpsman Melanie Drew, NMLC's SAPR point of contact. "Joining this team has been an opportunity for me to give back to the community by informing people of the resources available to assist victims. Prominent on that list of local resources include 24/7 Victim Advocate veterans hotlines of NMLC, Fort Detrick and Naval Support Activity Bethesda, the 24/7 DoD SAFE hotline, Frederick's Heartly House and Maryland Coalition against Sexual Assault. It's important that people know what resources are available."
Considering the military alone, that number of people is high. In early 2014, the DoD SAPRO asked the RAND National Defense Research Institute to conduct an independent assessment of sexual assault, sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the military. The assessment included 560,000 respondents.
The results of the study provided details on the frequency of criminal sexual assault against, the nature and context of those assaults and how they differ for men and women. It also provided new evidence on the occurrence of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that could provide a basis for developing new approaches to the prevention of these offenses.
One of those prevention steps is encouraging victims to report incidents. Some misconceptions must be clarified for those who may be reluctant to seek the advice of a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response counselor.
"Victims should understand that the SARC maintains confidentiality with all individuals who seek our services," said Kimberley Tobiere-Agnew, a WRNMMC Assault Response Coordinator. "Family/service members, DoD Civilians and contractors should feel comfortable speaking with counselors without fear of reprisal or retribution. The counselor's role is to assist clients through providing resources and information, thus allowing them to further help victims by making informed decisions regarding the services being provided."
Having a clear understanding of what services are offered and which entities can provide the services plays a key role with ensuring victims know exactly who to contact in any given situation.
"Additional resources include the chain of command, military police, Army Community Services, Criminal Investigation Command, local and State police, Staff Judge Advocate, DoD Safe Helpline, said Mark B. Minter, Fort Detrick and U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program manager.
"There are several reporting options and based on the option selected by the victim the incident is totally confidential," said Minter. "As mentioned earlier, in Frederick County, we can refer victims to the local rape crisis center "Heartly House," which can assist victims of sexual assault services free of charge and will not notify the military without the victim's permission."
Being a victim of any crime could be a harrowing event. Few are reluctant to report crimes that aren't of a personal nature. On the other hand, crimes of a sexual or harassing nature are typically underreported. Numerous resources are available to survivors and they need to know that trained professionals are keenly aware of the sensitivities of nature of assault.
No matter what you call it, there are offices with trained victim advocates standing by to provide counsel and advice for delicate situations. You do not have to go through this alone. The Department cultivates a culture of gender respect where sexual assault is not tolerated and is unacceptable. If you know something, say something. Eliminate Sexual Assault: Know Your Part. Do Your Part.
For more news from Naval Medical Logistics Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/nmlc/