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News > Commentary - Preventing sexual assault and harassment in our ranks
Preventing sexual assault and harassment in our ranks

Posted 4/18/2013   Updated 4/18/2013 Email story   Print story


Commentary by Maj. Gen. Michael Garrett
U.S. Army Alaska Commanding General

4/18/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaksa -- April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. The Army's theme for this observance is "We own it, we'll solve it, together."

The Army has published some disturbing trends and statistics I want everyone to recognize. We won't be capable of owning or solving this problem together until we each acknowledge how serious these crimes are and collectively dedicate ourselves to preventing them.

There were 1,695 reported cases of sexual assault throughout the Army in 2011. Nearly half of these reported attacks happened on weekends. More than half of them were reported as Soldier-on-Soldier attacks. Eight four percent of the victims and 59 percent of the alleged offenders were specialist/corporal and below.

Despite the severity of these numbers, they likely don't tell the whole story. Sexual assault is the most under reported crime in the nation. We must assume there are victimized Soldiers who have yet to file a report. I encourage any victims in our ranks to come forward and at least file a restricted report with the installation Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Program advocate.

The SHARP advocate, a specially trained civilian, can help you cope with what happened and offer confidential advice on finding solutions. Filing a restricted report affords victims access to healthcare, counseling and advocacy without initiating an investigation.

When these offenses are committed within our ranks, they are among the worst transgressions we as an organization can fail to prevent. These crimes are Soldiers hurting Soldiers. In addition to the numbers above, a disturbing number of sexual assaults are committed by male noncommissioned officers against young female Soldiers arriving at their first duty station. That's a terrible betrayal, which goes against our Army Values and the NCO Creed.

Just last month here in U.S. Army Alaska, a master sergeant was found guilty by an enlisted panel of failure to obey an order prohibiting an inappropriate relationship, obstructing justice and cruelty and maltreatment through sexual harassment. This senior NCO was reduced three grades to the rank of sergeant. Serious crimes carry serious consequences.

In my experience evaluating sexual assault and sexual harassment cases, it's generally not hard to identify ways the crime could have been prevented. In most instances, there was a coworker or Soldier who had seen previous inappropriate behavior and failed to speak up before it escalated to a crime.

We've all been trained to recognize the warning signs and know where we can go for help. If you see a dangerous situation or suspect someone may be in danger, it's your duty to intervene. Leaders who witness sexual harassment must immediately take appropriate actions to correct the harassing behavior. As far as I'm concerned, leaders who fail to correct such misconduct have become participants and are effectively committing sexual harassment themselves. Any such leaders will be dealt with

Each of us is entitled to work and live in an environment free from fear of sexual assault and harassment. Hostile work environments undermine mission performance, productivity and impair unit morale. Leaders must take allegations of sexual assault and harassment seriously. As a commander, my business is readiness. We must not tolerate anything within our control which reduces the readiness of our units.

The Army has programs, hotlines and professional counselors all dedicated to preventing sexual assault and harassment. Familiarize yourself with these resources and know where to turn if you or someone else is in danger. Anyone who is subject to acts of sexual harassment by leaders or their fellow Soldiers should make it clear such behavior is offensively unwelcome and immediately report the incident to the chain of command. If those being harassed tolerate the inappropriate behavior, they risk emboldening the offender to further harassment that could lead to sexual assault.

We all have the right to present complaints to our leaders without fear of intimidation, reprisal, or further harassment. Commanders must know what steps to take instantly upon receiving a report and take the appropriate actions. A Soldier shouldn't have to watch you stumble through the process for the first time when they are counting on you to lead and protect them. Every echelon of leadership must make certain anyone who reports a case of sexual assault or harassment is protected from reprisal or retaliation.
This is a hard conversation to have because it requires us to face difficult truths about some of those with whom we serve. Nevertheless, it is a conversation we must have if we are to own the problem of Soldiers hurting Soldiers through sexual assault and harassment. We owe it to the parents who entrusted us with the safety of their sons and daughters to face hard truths, make resolute decisions and to ultimately defend their trust in the honor of our profession.

We have a sacred obligation to the American people to do all in our power to protect the Soldiers in our formations, even if it means we protect them from each other. I know we will solve this problem together by empowering individual Soldiers with the confidence to stand up for themselves and those they lead against the few who choose to violate the nobility of our profession of arms.

Having served with you this past year, I can testify our Arctic Warriors are some of the finest Soldiers in the Army. I am very proud of you for choosing to serve our nation at a time when many others would not. You are the reason I wake up every day fired-up to give my best to this command and the Army. All I ask is that each of you does the same.
Arctic Warrior! Arctic Tough!

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