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Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Simon addresses the audience of 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers in the Multipurpose Auditorium during a candid talk about the Sexual Harassment / Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)

SHARP presentation gets Soldiers to open up about sexual violence

Mike Strasser

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 9, 2022) – Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Simon is not afraid to talk about sexual assault.

The challenge, however, has been to get others to speak up, which is what brought her to Fort Drum on May 2 for a discussion on SHARP (Sexual Harassment / Assault Response and Prevention) with 10th Mountain Division (LI) Soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

As a sexual assault survivor and someone who served as a victim advocate for several years at Fort Drum, Simon said the presentation was not about her, but what Soldiers had to say. For roughly 90 minutes, she shared details about her life and Army career, all the while relentlessly persuading her audience to talk and ask questions.

The SHARP program, or the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program that preceded it, did not exist when Simon was assaulted nearly 20 years ago.

“What I would not have given to have somebody on my side, somebody to help me and someone to say, ‘I believe you,’” she said. “I dealt with countless cases of sexual harassment after my assault, countless, but there was never a clear-cut way to report it or a support chain to go through.”

When the opportunity to become a victim advocate was available, Simon was among the first unit representatives to complete the SHARP training in 2012.

“It was deeply, deeply important to me that I get everything I could out of this course, and that I become a victim advocate so I could hopefully help someone going through a horrible experience to not feel so alone as I did,” she said.

Simon felt that others in the class were not taking the training as seriously as they should, and that is when she decided to share her story publically for the first time.

“It was ugly and messy, and I’m pretty sure I cried, and I’m pretty sure I got angry at someone,” Simon said. “But that helped me a lot too. To say, ‘this is my story, this is not his story’ – and it helped me come to terms with it and keep moving forward.”

By putting a face to the subject matter – even if it was her own – Simon found a way to connect with the Soldiers she was training.

“I don’t mind talking about my experience,” she said. “I don’t have a problem using it as a teaching tool to help people understand that, believe it or not, sexual assault does happen. It’s not something we make up for training scenarios. This happens to real people.”

She said one reason why some people are not receptive to talking about these issues is because they have not been personally affected by it, or they presume they would respond better in similar situations.

“They’re thinking ‘this is never going to happen to me, I’m never going to have to deal with this, (but if it did), I would fight,’” Simon said. “I’m not judging anyone; this is based off my experience and the feedback I’ve received after giving classes and training. It’s not about you. It’s about the battle buddy sitting next to you. It’s about your wife, your husband, your brother and your sister. You might be the one to make the difference and get somebody the help they need.”

Although no longer affiliated with the SHARP program, Simon said that she is still passionate about it and advocates for more Soldiers to get involved.

“SHARP is really important to me, and I was hell-bent on being a part of it,” she said. “They are the ones who make sure you know all the services available to you and they can help you get to your appointments. They are the ones who will take your call at 2 in the morning when you’re having a panic attack, and be there for you. They’re here to make sure no one goes through this alone.”

Nicole Bellinger, 2nd BCT SHARP victim advocate, watched as Simon connected with some of the Soldiers on a personal level.

“Sgt. 1st Class Simon was in one of the first groups of advocates that we trained back in 2012 to take over the SHARP program as we transitioned it from SAPR here at Fort Drum,” Bellinger said. “She’s always had such a passion for assisting survivors through this process and supporting the program and its mission to end sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military.”

From her experience with training Soldiers, Bellinger said the best approach is to use real-world examples and speak to them plainly and honestly.

“They can’t discuss what they aren’t understanding, and I think Kelly brought all of those elements for the Soldiers in attendance,” she said. “She spoke to them as a Soldier, but also as a victim-now-survivor to give them perspective.”

Bellinger said she was encouraged by Soldiers who said that SHARP is accessible and easy to use on post.

“I feel that is a great sign that we are doing our jobs as advocates in putting the information out to formations, and that they know where to go in the event they need assistance,” she said.

At the same time, both Bellinger and Simon acknowledged during the discussion that SHARP can always be improved to better serve the community.

“What works at Fort Drum may not work at another installation,” Bellinger said. “So we are always having to check the pulse of our program to ensure we are meeting our Soldiers, family members and DA civilians where they are at, and in the most effective and efficient way possible, per our regulations and policies. Sometimes service members will be very candid about their thoughts and perceptions about the program, and I am always happy to hear from them on how we can improve.”

Simon was invited by the installation’s SHARP team to speak as part of the Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) campaign in April.

“While this event was the final one for SAAPM, the SHARP program at Fort Drum as a whole will be doing more events throughout the year because sexual assault and sexual harassment awareness need to be a year-round effort,” Bellinger said. “This is an issue our Soldiers, family members and civilians should never lose sight of.”

At the conclusion of the awareness campaign, Bellinger said that she hoped more service members will see how valuable a resource SHARP can be for them, both personally and professionally.

“But we also want them to understand how seeking the needed resources – behavioral health, medical, legal, to name a few – can make a difference in healing and recovery,” she said. “And recovery, although lengthy, is possible!”

Bellinger said that it takes the entire community to stop sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“From a leader being approachable, supportive and truly caring about their Soldiers, to that trusted battle buddy who will have your back, and the good Samaritan who chooses bystander intervention to help prevent or stop harassment or assault,” she said, “it’s not just about responding after the fact; it is stopping it before it gets to that level.”

Community members who need help are encouraged to use the Fort Drum Installation SHARP Hotline at (315) 767-6128, or the DoD Safe Helpline at (877) 995-5247.

The 10th Mountain Division SHARP Resource Center is located in Bldg. 10012 on South Riva Ridge Loop.