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SHARP: Army Strong?

**TRIGGER WARNING:  Discussion of Sexual Assault**

In honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it’s quite common to see company-endorsed public service announcements tackling the issue of sexual assault this month.

This past week, I had some business to take care of on an Army post, and I noticed the United States’ Army’s efforts to take on the issue of assault.  Before I proceed, I’d like to clarify that I’m in no way condemning the US military, nor am I trying to belittle their attempts to raise awareness about a very important matter.  However, I do want to take a keen look at the tactics emulated in the Army’s public service announcement in order to make a prescription for what can be improved in future messages.

Given the very public scrutiny that the military has received for the handling of sexual assault cases, it’s always good news to see positive coverage on this matter.  Here are the posters I found plastered around the Army post:

SHARP 1

The text reads:

Intervene:  When I recognize a threat to my fellow soldiers, I will have the personal courage to intervene and prevent Sexual Assault.  I will condemn acts of Sexual Harassment.  I will not abide obscene gestures, language, or behavior.  I am a warrior and a member of a team.  I will intervene.

Act:  You are my brother, my sister, my fellow soldier.  It is my duty to stand up for you, no matter the time or place.  I will take action.  I will do what’s right.  I will prevent sexual harassment and assault.  I will not tolerate sexually offensive behavior.  I will act.

Motivate:  We are American soldiers, motivated to keep our fellow soldiers safe.  It is our mission to prevent sexual harassment and assault.  We will denounce sexual misconduct.   As soldiers we are all motivated to take action.  We are strongest…together.SHARP 2

The text reads:

As a committed Civilian member of the Army team, I am enforcing the Army Standards of Conduct.  I am also accountable to those standards.  My strength and determination are helping to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault from within our community.  I am a force in the fight to protect my team.

For starters, I love that these posters challenge the Bystander Effect.  These motivational words encourage all to do their part to say something if they see something.  They are held to a higher standard than to tolerate obscenities, and acts of sexual harassment and assault.

There are a few things that rub me the wrong way, though.  I’m not totally comfortable with exclusively women being featured on these posters that talk about preventing sexual assault.  Given that women are overwhelmingly the victims, not the perpetrators, of sexual assault, it seems strange to me that women are the proverbial poster children for a campaign championing the very injustice of which they are the victims.  At the very least, I would have appreciated finding a man on one of the PSA posters.  Having a male soldier explicitly stand up for sexual assault prevention could go a long way in projecting an image of solidarity in these posters, and in purporting the message of a zero-tolerance zone.

I’m also uncomfortable with the second poster, where the script reads, “My strength and determination are helping to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault from within our community.”  I really can’t stand that this language, written next to a picture of a female Civilian, suggests that women are the ones that need to be the catalysts for change.  No.  Just no.  This comes way too close to victim blaming.  It’s NOT a woman’s responsibility to report assault as much as it’s the man’s responsibility to not commit the crime.  While I understand that no one should ever be a bystander, the sole focus of these messages is one that shifts the responsibility away from the perpetrator, and onto the witness and/or victim.

I also don’t like that this style of PSA is more focused on intervention than prevention.  “If you see something, say something” is great, but what about “if you think about committing assault, don’t”?  Even the department  responsible for producing these posters have their priorities misaligned:  Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention.   Innocent enough, the name still reinforces a reactionary emphasis, rather than a preventative one.

The “we’re all in this together” mentality is a great start, but it isn’t enough to prevent sexual assault.  This year’s Army SHARP PSA’s aren’t terrible, but there are certainly ways that the messaging can be improved in future campaigns.

5 Responses to “SHARP: Army Strong?”

  1. steeleba

    I agree. Why are only women featured on these poster when predominately women are victims and men are the perpetrators. There are so many things out there right now to teach and tell women on prevention of sexual assault and harassment. But yet barely anything is ever targeted at the people (mostly men) who do the assaulting and harassing. While its relevant for a women to know some things to help prevent it, how about stop targeting women when they are the victims. Just shows how patriarchal our society is, and pretty much still saying that its the woman’s fault. Not cool.

    Reply
  2. Army SHARP Program

    While we appreciate the constructive criticism from the JMU Women’s Student Caucus regarding Army sexual assault prevention messaging, we must to clarify a couple of points to correctly inform your audience of the Army’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program (SHARP) .

    Your article incorrectly indicates only women are featured in Army sexual assault prevention posters and brochures. Army sexual assault awareness materials include both males and females as illustrated by the posters at the following link: http://www.preventsexualassault.army.mil. You may also download and access a suite of training materials which more than adequately address your points and concerns found in the blog. Some materials are accessible only by those who hold a Department of the Army common access card.

    Sexual assault is an insidious blight on our society. This is especially true when it happens to service members who have sworn to protect and defend their Nation only to be victimized by their fellow comrade in arms. Soldier-on-Soldier sexual offenses erode the bedrock of trust on which our profession is built. Trust must exist amongst our Soldiers, between leader and led and between the Army and our Nation. Without this trust we will not succeed as individuals or as an institution. That’s why addressing sexual assault is the Army’s number one priority.

    The Army understands sexual assault is not just a female issue. Sexual assault is a societal cancer that affects females and males as well as all members of every socioeconomic class. We also understand that underreporting of sexual assault is a common problem in society, and it’s something the Army is addressing by eliminating the stigma associated with reporting so our Soldiers—male and female—can come forward to get the care and support needed.

    As a result, we have seen more people come forward to report sexual assaults than ever before, including a growing number of reports made by victims about incidents that took place prior to joining the military. For example, from October 2012 to September 2013, approximately 5.3% of sexual assault reports from Soldiers were for incidents that occurred prior to their military service, compared to 2.0% the year prior. Additionally, more than 15% of reports were for crimes that occurred more than a year after the assault. We believe this unprecedented increase in reports is due to a growing level of confidence in our response system and a sign that victims have increased confidence in their leaders and in the Army’s commitment to care for and protect them.

    However, we still have a lot of work to do. In the past year, the Army has placed greater emphasis on leadership’s role in setting the proper environment for prevention, education, victim support and accountability. Leaders are held accountable through mandatory assessments about how they foster an environment of dignity and respect.

    The Army is intent on eliminating sexual assault from the ranks and to changing the culture to a positive environment in which victims—male or female–feel free to come forward to report incidents. Victims can also trust their reports are taken seriously, are thoroughly and professionally investigated and properly adjudicated.

    Again, we appreciate your comments and also this opportunity to inform your members, some of whom are Soldiers, of the positive steps we’re taking to eliminate this crime from our ranks.

    Reply
    • ladychaotica21

      I appreciate that you took the time to read and respond to my post. I certainly don’t want to project a false image, and any firsthand clarification is both welcome and appreciated. I did notice that the website featured men as part of the campaign, and I will make that update to my post so as to properly inform our readers of all of the facts. However, when I was on post last week, the only posters that were featured were the two listed in my post. I went into several buildings, and I didn’t find any other variations of the campaign flyers. I can appreciate that this was an isolated incident that should be taken up with the command on post, and I will look into it, as it sends a message that the SHARP program clearly does not wish to convey.

      On another note, I am thrilled to hear that victims feel more comfortable with your program’s reporting system, and that you have unprecedented numbers of victims coming forward to seek the justice that they deserve. As a point of constructive criticism, though, it does concern me that the metrics focus on the success of the reporting system, rather than an emphasis on a decrease of occurrences. This is the point I wish to drive home when discussing the discrepancy between prevention and response. Given that the system implemented is still in its infancy, I’m sure time will tell a more complete story about the frequency of occurrences in addition to reports. Do you have any insights on how that may be a factor in the coming times?

      Thank you again for your time, and for engaging with me. Please let me know if there is any other information you feel might be helpful–I would be more than happy to write a follow up post and circulate any materials you feel might be appropriate. I appreciate your efforts in combating the horrors of sexual assault among the ranks.

      Reply
  3. southernpreppylady

    They had males as a part of this campaign too, but this is also an old campaign. Go to http://www.preventsexualassault.army.mil to see the latest. “My strength and determination are helping to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault from within our community” is not that the woman is responsible, but that as a Soldier and member of a team and leader is eliminating this from the Army. I really think you probably should have reached out to the office first before publishing this article so you had a better idea of why they took this approach and what they have learned from this campaign to improve the materials. They also worked with experts in the civilian world to develop these materials. It was not done in a vacuum.

    Reply
    • ladychaotica21

      Thanks so much for your comment. I just responded to ArmySHARP (See the comment above yours). I appreciate this clarification, and as I mentioned in my comment, these two flyers were the only ones displayed on post. It was a relief to realize that there are men featured as part of this campaign, thanks to the information you shared. That being said, the post that I was on should update their marketing tools, because the exclusive use of female faces on that post sends a message that is evidently contrary to that of the SHARP’s mission.

      As a point of clarification about my motives, I’m not taking issue with the Army–I’m taking issue with certain aspects of their marketing strategy. I am no stranger to the military, and I understand that civvies were involved in developing these materials. That doesn’t change the fact that I see a discrepancy between response and report of sexual assaults. That is an area of improvement for any organization–not just among the ranks of our armed forces.

      Reply

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