The headlines shout from the pages of both civilian and military newspapers:
The headlines shout from the pages of both civilian and military newspapers:
-Air Force sexual assault prevention program head accused of groping woman in parking lot;
-Army major general facing alcohol, sexual misconduct charges fired from post; and
-Army brigadier general faces allegations of sexual misconduct while overseas.
That has created a problem for soldiers like Sgt. 1st Class Michael Campbell. Campbell is part of Fort Polk's Sexual Harassment and Assault
Response Program - or SHARP. He said headlines like those have made his job more difficult.
"It sometimes seems like we take five steps forward and three steps back," he said. "But I look at it like if I can just help one victim, I am doing my
job. And I know my sergeants feel the same way."
Campbell's team is tasked with helping change a culture that for years has fostered an environment that often looked on those who were the victims of sexual assault or harassment as the instigators.
"That's the tricky part," Campbell said. "I believe the Army wants to change the culture and the good intentions are there, but it takes effective
leaders who believe in that change. Back in the day, it was acceptable - it was OK - to have conversations in a work environment that were sexual in
nature. No one gave two thoughts about it, and if they did, it wasn't mentioned, because they didn't want to be singled out as being different. Now, I need my junior and senior leaders to interact and stop it where it starts, and explain to them that this is not the way the Army is trying to go."
Campbell said changing that culture will take work.
"There is no more talking about stuff sexual in nature at work; there is no more holding up the swimsuit edition pictures or the firefighter of the
month for women - yes, it can go both ways," he said. "They've got to stop it. They've got to reach down, grab that personal courage and say, 'Hey, this needs to stop. This can be considered sexual harassment and the Army's not having it anymore.'"
Victims are sometimes confused about what constitutes sexual assault or harassment, Campbell said. He said Army Regulation 600-20, Chapters 7 and 8, give specific actions that constitute both. He said there are five different spots on the body that if touched, automatically make it a sexual assault charge: The breasts, inner thighs, groin area, buttocks and anus.
"If any of those are touched - unwanted - at any given time, it's considered sexual assault and will be investigated," Campbell said. "A lot of soldiers
think its sexual assault if someone puts their arm around them or shakes their hand in a leading way, but it's not - that's considered sexual harassment. It has to be one of those five areas to be sexual assault."
Sexual harassment is more a form of discrimination, Campbell said. It can be verbal or physical, including catcalls, licking your lips when looking at
someone else or wolf whistles.
"If you're having a conversation with a battle buddy that is sexual in nature and he or she is OK with it, but someone walks by and hears that
conversation and feels offended by it, that's considered sexual harassment as well and they have a case," Campbell said. "What it boils down to is a
hostile working environment. Soldiers shouldn't have to work in an environment with those types of conversations going on. That's the culture the Army is trying to change."
To do that, Campbell said the Army is attempting to flood posts with trained SHARP noncommissioned officers and victim advocates.
"Every brigade will have two non-collateral duty SHARP personal - one staff sergeant or higher and one sergeant first class or higher," Campbell said. "Each battalion is supposed to have two collateral duty staff sergeants or above who are victim advocates. Each company is supposed to have two collateral duty staff sergeant or higher victim advocates."
And, unlike the Army of years past, care is taken to ensure the right soldiers are placed in these jobs.
"We're doing background checks - if there is any kind of domestic violence or abuse in their backgrounds, they are a no go," Campbell said. "Even if
they make it through training and a background check, we look at their maturity level and how they interact with other people. If they don't have
the right mind frame, we don't put them in that position. I've taken a couple of people out of the class for that reason."
soldiers who are not selected for the program aren't in any trouble, Campbell said. "It's that we need the right people with the right mindset in these jobs because it's a victim-based program," he said. "You don't get to say, 'Why did you put yourself in that position, or why would you wear that, or why did you drink so much?' You don't get to say that anymore. Now, it's trying to make sure the victim is in the right frame of mind and ready and
fit for their job. That's the concept behind the program."
In light of the instances of sexual harassment and sexual assault listed above, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has announced a series of initiatives to eradicate sexual assault. He was quoted as saying the initiatives are, "to ensure victims of sexual assault are provided the advice and counsel they need to understand their rights and to feel confident."
Army Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention and response office, said the new initiatives define priorities
and actions and provide authoritative guidance to all Department of Defense agencies and components.
"The strategy aligns all programs in the department with the five lines of effort from the Joint Chiefs of Staff: Prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy and assessment," Patton said.
"We see all those being essential pieces in our multidisciplinary approach," he said.
While there is understandably a concerted effort to quickly place trained SHARP soldiers in units, Campbell said it's equally important to ensure it's
"We have to react to whatever has just happened, but I don't want to use the words as quick as possible - that sounds like you're just checking the
block," he said. "That's not what we're about.
"We're about making sure people get the training, they understand the training and it's not just power point slides anymore," he said. "It's interactive training and really making sure these talking points get discussed."
As for those victims who might be leery to report sexual harassment or assault, Campbell asks one thing: "Give me a chance and let's see the end
He said the Fort Polk command team will not tolerate sexual assault or harassment.
"It's in the commanding general's top five programs on this installation," Campbell said. "Every complaint is taken seriously. But it's important
victims talk to their SHARP NCOs and unit victim advocates. Some soldiers are going to their first sergeants and commanders, and there is nothing
wrong with that. But if it involves sexual harassment or assault, these first sergeants and commanders need to stop them, and get the right people
in there so we can present their options to them. When they talk to the right people, something is going to happen - there will be an investigation.
"You've got to give us a chance. I've got some great sergeants who are willing to do the right thing," he said.
Campbell referred back to changing a long-standing Army culture.
"I wish that people could truly understand that we're trying to change the Army culture," he said. "They read what they read and see what they see. If they saw the passion behind those in the SHARP positions on Fort Polk, they would come forth."
A recent email from a victim drove home Campbell's point.
"We just got an email from one of our victims who said their case had just finished," Campbell said. "While they didn't get the results they had hoped
for, they said they wanted the CG to know they were treated with dignity and respect, and they are proud they came forth and they would do it again
Campbell said statistics indicate more people are coming forward because of the information put out through SHARP.
"We just had some skits that 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade put on and we've shown the video 'The Invisible War,' on several different occasions, both at brigade level and to individuals in our office," he said. "We're trying to get the information out because we want soldiers to know that we do care, that we are going to take care of them and they don't have to put up with any kind of harassment or assault within their surroundings or from their battle buddies. We're here to take care of battle buddies; no one leaves a fallen comrade."