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Military Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Army

Military Sexual Assault and Harassment: Ineffective Implementation of the SHARP Program at Fort Hood

Military Sexual Assault and Harassment at Fort Hood

Introduction

Addressing military sexual assault and harassment is paramount to ensuring the safety and well-being of service members. The U.S. Secretary of the Army established the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee (FHIRC) to assess Fort Hood’s command climate and culture. The committee’s report, released in November 2020, highlights significant shortcomings in implementing the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program at the installation.

Purpose of the Report on Fort Hood Military Sexual Assault

Military Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Army military defense lawyerThe FHIRC report’s primary purpose was to comprehensively assess Fort Hood‘s command climate and its impact on soldiers’ safety, welfare, and readiness. One of the critical findings of the report is the ineffective implementation of the SHARP program, which resulted in a permissive environment for military sexual assault and harassment. This article delves into the details of Finding #1 from the report, emphasizing the urgent need for reforms.

Significance of Addressing Military Sexual Assault

Military sexual assault and harassment are grave issues that undermine the core values of the armed forces. The SHARP program was designed to foster a culture free of sexual harassment and assault through prevention, education, and victim support. However, the FHIRC report reveals that at Fort Hood, these objectives were not met, leading to a pervasive lack of confidence in the SHARP program among soldiers.

Key Findings

According to the FHIRC, the command climate at Fort Hood during the review period (FY 2018-2020) was ineffective in instilling SHARP program core values below the brigade level. The report states, “The main cause was the inability of the command elements at the Division and Brigade levels to proactively drive the SHARP Program elements of knowledge, prevention, reporting, response, and recovery down into the ranks where most of the SHARP violations took place” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 17).

The report also highlights the significant underreporting of sexual harassment and assault incidents, attributing it to a “universal fear of retaliation, exposure, and ostracism for reporting SHARP violations” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 27). Furthermore, it points out that the Sexual Assault Review Boards (SARB) at Fort Hood focused more on administrative aspects rather than addressing the substantive issues, which was a missed opportunity to create a respectful culture.

Need for Reforms in Military Sexual Assault Programs

The findings underscore the urgent need for reforms in the SHARP program’s implementation to ensure it effectively addresses and prevents sexual harassment and assault in the military. The following sections of this article will explore the detailed findings of the FHIRC report, shedding light on the necessary steps to create a safer and more respectful environment for all service members.

Fort Hood Independent Review Committee Report, 2020. Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee,” U.S. Department of the Army.

Background on SHARP Program

The Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program is a crucial initiative within the U.S. Army aimed at addressing and preventing sexual harassment and assault. Established to create a culture of respect and dignity, SHARP’s primary objective is to enhance Army readiness by fostering a safe environment free from sexual misconduct. This program provides education, prevention strategies, victim support, and appropriate offender accountability.

History of SHARP and Military Sexual Assault

The SHARP program was instituted following the establishment of the Department of Defense (DoD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) in 2005. SAPRO was created in response to rising concerns about sexual assault within the military and the need for a unified strategy to address these issues. The Army expanded its efforts by incorporating sexual harassment prevention into its program, forming SHARP to tackle both harassment and assault comprehensively.

Objectives of SHARP

The SHARP program aims to:

  • Prevent sexual harassment and assault through education and training.
  • Provide comprehensive support and advocacy for victims.
  • Ensure effective reporting and response systems are in place.
  • Hold offenders accountable through appropriate disciplinary actions.

Implementation of SHARP

SHARP is implemented at all levels of the Army, from the highest echelons to individual units. The program includes mandatory annual training for all soldiers, which covers topics such as recognizing and preventing sexual harassment and assault, understanding the reporting process, and supporting victims. Additionally, SHARP coordinators and victim advocates are assigned to units to provide immediate assistance and guidance to those affected.

Challenges in the Implementation of the Military Sexual Assault Program

Despite its comprehensive framework, the implementation of SHARP has faced significant challenges. The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee (FHIRC) report highlights several issues at Fort Hood, including insufficient command emphasis, lack of resources, and inadequate training. The report states, “The SHARP Program at Fort Hood was under-resourced due to understaffing, lack of training, lack of credentialed SHARP professionals, and lack of funding” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. iii).

Core Components of SHARP

The SHARP program consists of several core components designed to address different aspects of sexual misconduct:

  • Prevention: Initiatives aimed at preventing sexual harassment and assault before they occur. This includes education, awareness campaigns, and training sessions.
  • Reporting: Mechanisms that allow victims to report incidents confidentially or through official channels. This includes the option for restricted or unrestricted reporting.
  • Response: Immediate and effective response to reported incidents, including medical care, counseling, and legal support for victims.
  • Accountability: Ensuring offenders are held accountable through investigations and appropriate disciplinary actions.

Restricted vs. Unrestricted Reporting of Military Sexual Assault

SHARP provides two main reporting options for victims of sexual assault: restricted and unrestricted reporting. Restricted reporting allows victims to confidentially disclose the details of the assault to specified individuals (e.g., SHARP coordinators, victim advocates, and healthcare providers) without triggering an official investigation. This option ensures victims can receive medical care and support services while maintaining confidentiality. In contrast, unrestricted reporting initiates an official investigation and involves command and law enforcement authorities. Both reporting options aim to support victims while giving them control over how their case is handled.

Victim Support Services

Military Sexual Assault and Harassment in the Army military defense lawyersA critical aspect of SHARP is providing comprehensive support services to victims of sexual harassment and assault. This includes access to medical care, counseling, legal assistance, and advocacy. The program ensures victims have a Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) who can offer legal advice and representation. The goal is to create a supportive environment where victims feel safe and empowered to come forward and seek justice.

U.S. Army to combat sexual harassment and assault

The SHARP program represents a vital effort within the U.S. Army to combat sexual harassment and assault. While it has made significant strides in raising awareness and providing support, challenges remain in its implementation, as evidenced by the findings at Fort Hood. Addressing these issues is essential to ensuring that SHARP can effectively fulfill its mission of creating a safe and respectful environment for all soldiers.

Fort Hood Independent Review Committee Report, 2020. “Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee,” U.S. Department of the Army.

Finding #1: Ineffective Implementation at Fort Hood

The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee (FHIRC) determined that the implementation of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program at Fort Hood was ineffective. This finding highlights significant issues in the command climate, which failed to instill SHARP program core values below the brigade level, leading to a permissive environment for military sexual assault and harassment.

Command Climate Failures and Military Sexual Assault

The FHIRC report states, “The SHARP Program at Fort Hood was under-resourced due to understaffing, lack of training, lack of credentialed SHARP professionals, and lack of funding” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. iii). These deficiencies were exacerbated by insufficient command emphasis on the program, particularly at the division and brigade levels. The command’s failure to proactively address and mitigate the risks associated with sexual assault and harassment significantly impacted the program’s effectiveness.

Underreporting and Victim Retaliation

A critical issue identified by the FHIRC was the significant underreporting of sexual harassment and assault incidents. The report indicates that soldiers feared retaliation, exposure, and ostracism for reporting SHARP violations. The FHIRC found a “universal fear of retaliation, exposure, and ostracism for reporting SHARP violations” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 27). This fear prevented many victims from coming forward, further undermining the SHARP program’s goals.

Focus on Administrative Aspects of Military Sexual Assault

The Sexual Assault Review Boards (SARB) at Fort Hood were found to be more focused on administrative aspects rather than addressing substantive issues. This approach resulted in missed opportunities to develop proactive strategies for creating a respectful culture and reducing incidents of sexual assault and harassment. The FHIRC noted that “the SARB process was primarily utilized to address administrative and not the actual substantive aspects of the Program” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. iii).

Ineffective implementation of the SHARP program

The ineffective implementation of the SHARP program at Fort Hood underscores the need for significant reforms to ensure the program’s core values are instilled at all levels of command. Addressing the deficiencies in resources, training, and command emphasis is crucial to creating a safe and respectful environment for all soldiers.

Fort Hood Independent Review Committee Report, 2020. “Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee,” U.S. Department of the Army.

Command Climate and SHARP Core Values

The command climate at Fort Hood played a crucial role in the ineffective implementation of the SHARP program. The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee (FHIRC) found that the lack of emphasis on SHARP core values below the brigade level significantly contributed to a permissive environment for military sexual assault and harassment.

Command Climate Issues with Military Sexual Assault

According to the FHIRC report, “During the review period of 2018-2020, Fort Hood leadership knew or should have known of the high risk of sexual assault and harassment at Fort Hood” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 19). Despite this awareness, there was a pervasive lack of proactive measures to address these risks. The command climate surveys of key commands at Fort Hood revealed high risks of sexual assault and harassment, which were not adequately addressed by leadership.

Lack of SHARP Core Values and Military Sexual Assault

The SHARP program’s core values include knowledge, prevention, reporting, response, and recovery. However, these values were not effectively instilled in the enlisted ranks at Fort Hood. The FHIRC report highlights that “there was widespread lack of knowledge of basic SHARP reporting methods and the right to Special Victims’ Counsel” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 24). This knowledge gap hindered the program’s effectiveness and contributed to underreporting.

Fear of Retaliation and Military Sexual Assault

One of the most significant barriers to the effective implementation of SHARP was the fear of retaliation among soldiers. The report states, “There was universal fear of retaliation, exposure, and ostracism for reporting SHARP violations” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 27). This fear created a culture where victims were reluctant to come forward, further perpetuating the issues within the command climate.

Command climate at Fort Hood failed to support the SHARP

The command climate at Fort Hood failed to support the SHARP program’s core values, leading to ineffective implementation and a permissive environment for sexual misconduct. Addressing these command climate issues and reinforcing SHARP core values at all levels of leadership are essential steps toward creating a safer and more respectful environment for soldiers.

Fort Hood Independent Review Committee Report, 2020. “Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee,” U.S. Department of the Army.

Key Issues in SHARP Program Implementation

The SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) program is designed to address and prevent sexual harassment and assault within the U.S. Army. However, the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee (FHIRC) report highlights several key issues that have hindered the effective implementation of SHARP at Fort Hood. These issues include inadequate resources, lack of training, fear of retaliation, and an emphasis on administrative processes over substantive solutions.

Inadequate Resources for Military Sexual Assault

One of the primary issues identified in the FHIRC report is the chronic under-resourcing of the SHARP program at Fort Hood. The report states, “The SHARP Program at Fort Hood was under-resourced due to understaffing, lack of training, lack of credentialed SHARP professionals, and lack of funding” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. iii). This lack of resources significantly impacted the program’s ability to function effectively and provide necessary support to victims of sexual harassment and assault.

Lack of Training for Military Sexual Assault

Effective training is essential for the successful implementation of any program, particularly one as critical as SHARP. However, the FHIRC report highlights a significant gap in training at Fort Hood. It states, “The SHARP Program was understaffed, undertrained, and under-resourced during most of the review period” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 34). This lack of training extended to both SHARP personnel and the broader soldier population, resulting in a widespread lack of knowledge about SHARP processes and victim rights.

Fear of Retaliation in Military Sexual Assault

Fear of retaliation is a major barrier to reporting sexual harassment and assault. The FHIRC report found a “universal fear of retaliation, exposure, and ostracism for reporting SHARP violations” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 27). This fear prevented many soldiers from coming forward, contributing to significant underreporting of incidents. The report indicates that this fear of retaliation was pervasive and deeply ingrained in the command climate at Fort Hood.

Emphasis on Administrative Processes

The FHIRC report also criticized the SHARP program’s focus on administrative processes rather than substantive issues. The Sexual Assault Review Boards (SARB), which are meant to provide executive oversight and feedback, were found to address the administrative aspects of cases primarily. The report states, “The SARB process was primarily utilized to address administrative and not the actual substantive aspects of the Program” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. iii). This administrative focus led to missed opportunities to develop proactive strategies for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and assault.

Knowledge Gaps

The report highlighted significant knowledge gaps among soldiers regarding SHARP reporting methods and their rights. The FHIRC found that “there was widespread lack of knowledge of basic SHARP reporting methods and the right to Special Victims’ Counsel” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 24). This lack of knowledge hindered the program’s effectiveness and contributed to underreporting and mistrust in the system.

Pervasive Lack of Confidence in War on Military Sexual Assault

The FHIRC report noted a pervasive lack of confidence in the SHARP program among soldiers at Fort Hood. It was found that “there was a pervasive lack of confidence in the SHARP Program among Soldiers” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 36). This lack of confidence stemmed from the perceived inefficacy of the program, fear of retaliation, and inadequate support for victims. Such distrust in the program further exacerbated the issues of underreporting and ineffective response.

Command Emphasis and Accountability for Military Sexual Assault

The FHIRC report stressed the need for greater command emphasis on the SHARP program and accountability at all levels. The report states, “The main cause was the inability of the command elements at the Division and Brigade levels to proactively drive the SHARP Program elements of knowledge, prevention, reporting, response, and recovery down into the ranks where most of the SHARP violations took place” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 17). Ensuring that command leaders are actively involved and held accountable for the program’s success is critical for its effective implementation.

SHARP program at Fort Hood highlights the urgent need for reforms

The key issues in implementing the SHARP program at Fort Hood highlight the urgent need for reforms. Addressing the challenges of inadequate resources, lack of training, fear of retaliation, administrative focus, knowledge gaps, and lack of confidence in the program is essential for creating a safe and respectful environment for all soldiers. Strengthening command emphasis and accountability will be vital steps toward ensuring the SHARP program’s success and service members’ well-being.

Fort Hood Independent Review Committee Report, 2020. “Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee,” U.S. Department of the Army.

Structural Weaknesses in SHARP Program Implementation

The Fort Hood Independent Review Committee (FHIRC) report identified several structural weaknesses in the implementation of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program. These structural issues hindered the program’s effectiveness and contributed to a permissive environment for military sexual assault and harassment. Key structural weaknesses include under-resourcing, lack of command emphasis, and deficiencies in the organizational structure of SHARP.

Under-Resourcing in Fight Against Military Sexual Assault

One of the most significant structural weaknesses identified in the FHIRC report is the chronic under-resourcing of the SHARP program at Fort Hood. The report states, “The SHARP Program at Fort Hood was under-resourced, due to understaffing, lack of training, lack of credentialed SHARP professionals, and lack of funding” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. iii). This under-resourcing meant that the program could not effectively support victims or carry out its prevention and response functions.

The lack of adequately trained and credentialed SHARP professionals exacerbated the program’s challenges. The report highlights that “the SHARP Program was understaffed, undertrained, and under-resourced during most of the review period” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 34). The SHARP program struggled to fulfill its mandate without sufficient personnel and resources, leading to gaps in support and prevention efforts.

Lack of Command Emphasis on Military Sexual Assault

Another critical structural weakness identified by the FHIRC is the lack of command emphasis on the SHARP program. The report states, “The main cause was the inability of the command elements at the Division and Brigade levels to proactively drive the SHARP Program elements of knowledge, prevention, reporting, response and recovery down into the ranks where most of the SHARP violations took place” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 17). This lack of emphasis from command leadership meant that the SHARP program was not given the required priority.

The report indicates that this lack of command emphasis resulted in a “pervasive lack of confidence in the SHARP Program among Soldiers” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 36). Soldiers did not trust the program to effectively address their concerns or protect them from retaliation, leading to significant underreporting of incidents and further undermining the program’s goals.

Organizational Structure Deficiencies

The FHIRC report also pointed to deficiencies in the SHARP program’s organizational structure. One major issue was using borrowed military manpower (BMM) for SHARP positions. The report states, “SHARP military professionals are assigned via borrowed military manpower, leading to high turnover and lack of continuity” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 48). This practice resulted in a lack of experienced personnel who could consistently and effectively support the program.

Additionally, the report found that SHARP assignments were not treated as career-broadening opportunities, unlike other positions. It notes that “considerable time is required to develop SHARP military professionals” and that the current assignment practices do not allow for the development of expertise necessary for the program’s success (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. 50). The frequent rotation of personnel meant that many SHARP professionals were not adequately prepared to handle the complexities of their roles.

Centralization and Oversight of Military Sexual Assault

The report recommended strengthening and centralizing SHARP functions under a dedicated SHARP Program Management Office at the installation level. It suggested that “the SHARP Program Manager should be responsible for assessing the readiness of units in terms of SHARP awareness and cultural posture” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. v). The program could ensure consistent implementation and oversight across the installation by centralizing these functions.

Furthermore, the report emphasized the need for increased transparency and accountability in the SHARP program. It recommended that “the nature and results of all SHARP disciplinary actions should be published at least semiannually, without identifying the subject, victim, or unit, to deter future conduct and engender confidence in the SHARP response process” (FHIRC Report, 2020, p. v). This transparency would help build trust in the program and demonstrate the Army’s commitment to addressing sexual harassment and assault.

Conclusion

The structural weaknesses identified in the FHIRC report highlight significant challenges in implementing the SHARP program at Fort Hood. Addressing these issues requires a concerted effort to provide adequate resources, enhance command emphasis, and improve the program’s organizational structure. Strengthening centralization and oversight, along with increasing transparency and accountability, are essential steps toward ensuring the effectiveness of the SHARP program and the safety and well-being of all soldiers.

Fort Hood Independent Review Committee Report, 2020. “Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee,” U.S. Department of the Army.

Authoritative websites that provide comprehensive information on military sexual assault:

1. Department of Defense (DoD) Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO)

DoD SAPRO

•The official site for the DoD’s efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault within the military.

2. Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

RAINN – Military Sexual Assault

•Provides information and resources for survivors of sexual assault, including those in the military.

3. National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)

NSVRC – Sexual Violence in the Military

•Offers resources and research on sexual violence, including in military contexts.

4. Military OneSource

Military OneSource – Sexual Assault

•A Department of Defense-funded program providing support and resources for military members and their families.

5. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

VA – Military Sexual Trauma

•Information and resources for veterans who have experienced military sexual trauma.

6. American Psychological Association (APA)

APA – Military Sexual Assault Prevention Efforts

•Offers insights into efforts and research related to preventing sexual assault in the military.

7. Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN)

SWAN – Sexual Violence in the Military

•An organization advocating for the needs of servicewomen, including issues of sexual violence.

8. Center for American Progress (CAP)

CAP – Addressing Sexual Assault in the Military

•Research and policy recommendations for addressing sexual assault in the military.

9. Human Rights Watch (HRW)

HRW – Military Sexual Assault

•Reports and advocacy on human rights issues, including sexual assault in the military.

10. Military Rape Crisis Center (MRCC)

MRCC

•Provides support and advocacy for survivors of military sexual assault.

These resources offer a range of perspectives, support services, research, and policy discussions related to military sexual assault.

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