USAREUR pushes to change culture, eliminate sexual assault, harassment

“Every Soldier, whatever the command relationship to U.S. Army Europe, needs to understand that sexual harassment, assault response and prevention is priority number one,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David S. Davenport, senior enlisted advisor for USAREUR. “We are going to get at this.”

USAREUR’s initiative toward SHARP is a push to change the culture to one in which no Soldier, at any level, tolerates sexual harassment or assault, all Soldiers are held accountable for their actions, and all victims are protected.

To combat what has been coined as an “insider threat,” USAREUR is emphasizing the importance of leaders at all levels closely engaging with their troops and families.

“Regardless of where Soldiers are — on post, off post, on duty, off duty — someone is responsible for the collective group,” Davenport said. “Leader engagement helps many things in our Army; not only resilience but also a leader knows about their Soldiers. The more they can get them into the right agencies and get them the right resources, the better we can help them overcome that offset in their life.”

Lt. Gen. Donald M. Campbell Jr., commander of USAREUR, summoned senior Army officers and noncommissioned officers from every Army unit and organization in Europe to a high-level meeting called the Ready and Resilient Campaign: SHARP Summit last month. The meeting featured guest speakers who are experts in sexual assault prevention, and the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault. It was designed to promote dialogue among the leaders and experts, help the leaders better understand what sexual assault victims face and how perpetrators operate, strengthen partnerships, and enhance a coordinated community response within the Army in Europe community.

In his opening remarks for the summit, Campbell emphasized the role of leadership in the campaign in changing the Army’s culture to eliminate sexual harassment and assault. He discussed the importance of leaders paying attention to and being involved in the reception and integration of new Soldiers, family members and civilian employees, and being involved in their Soldiers’ lives after work, whether in the barracks or off post. “Engaged leadership will win the day,” Campbell said.

Campbell also discussed the importance of building the level of trust subordinates have in their leadership. He stressed that transparency about what the units are doing when sexual assault is reported is key to building this trust, including keeping victims informed about the progress of the cases, keeping units informed about the outcome of cases, and continual dialogue about the SHARP program. “If we create an atmosphere of trust, discipline and readiness, Soldiers will report incidents,” Campbell said.

“It works. The system works,” said Spc. Audra Nava, a U.S. Army in Europe Soldier and survivor of sexual assault. “People who are thinking about [reporting sexual harassment or assault] should know that. Don’t be scared, the system works, and it’s a lot better than it used to be.”

Reporting sexual assault or harassment is an act of courage. For Nava, stepping forward and reporting the crime is something that will help the victim become a survivor.

“Once you’ve said it, once you’ve got it done and taken care of, you’ll feel so much better,” Nava said. “It won’t be easy at first. But slowly, piece by piece, you’ll be able to put yourself back together. As long as you understand [that] this is the right thing, this is good [and] something is going to get done, you’ll feel better inside. You’ll know deep down, this is finally going to be over.”

If someone sees inappropriate behavior, it is his or her responsibility to confront the person doing it. There shouldn’t be any ‘passive bystanders,’ people who see the crime but don’t intervene. One such intervener is Sgt. Christina Bush, with U.S. Army Correctional Association Europe.

Bush, who was attending a military ball, intervened when a Soldier harassed a local national. The local national told the Soldier that she was not interested in him, but he didn’t leave her alone. That’s when Bush decided to step in.

“A Soldier was persistently harassing a young lady who was sitting by herself,” Bush said. “She kept telling him no, that she didn’t want to dance with him during a ball. I went over there and said, ‘you need to leave her alone.’

“When you look at something like that and you just turn your back, you are almost like a co-conspirator … you are letting the incident happen,” Bush continued. “When you put that uniform on, on duty and off duty, you hold a certain responsibility to take care of everyone, to take care of your fellow brothers and sisters in uniform, your family and the people you swore to protect.”