Combating sexual harassment is key component of SHARP program

Following the release of reports showing increasing incidents of sexual assaults and harassment within the military, Department of Defense officials announced in 2019 that sexual harassment is a criminal offense. Then acting secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, called the move a necessary step to eliminate the “scourge” of sexual assault and abuse in the ranks of all the services.

Ending sexual harassment in units and the workplace is an important part of the work Master Sgts. Alveria Minter and Marvin Hicks perform each day as sexual assault response coordinators for the Military District of Washington’s Pentagon Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Office. Both officials noted that sexual harassment is not just harmless words, compliments or jokes. It can foster mistrust, destroy morale and create hostile work environments.

During DOD’s observance of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Minter and Hicks shared important information on what constitutes harassment, how to report an incident and the roles co-workers and leaders can play in stopping it.

How does the DOD define sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a form of gender discrimination. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature. Individuals are encouraged to read Regulation AR 600-20 Chapter 7, People may interpret sexual harassment differently. An individual might not think what he or she said or did is a harassment behavior, but when an individual reads it in black and white in the regulation, he or she will have a clear understanding.

What are some examples of harassment behaviors?

Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances. The harasser can identify with any gender and have any relationship to the victim. Examples are deliberate touching, stroking or repeated brushing against another person’s body. A person may make repeated requests for a date or for sexual activity. Written, verbal, pictorial or nonverbal communications of a sexual nature not related to the work to include pressure or demands for a date or for sexual activity are also forms of harassment.

Is sexual harassment gender specific?

No, sexual harassment is not gender specific. A common misconception that’s faced is that victims of sexual assault and harassment are always women. This is not the case. Men are often scared to report it because of masculinity issues. Individuals tend to view men as the prime abusers and females as the main victims. There is no question that most of the time, sexual (assault, abuse, harassment, etc.) is done by a man to a woman, but it is more common than people think that women are doing more of the abusing and harassing whether they are a direct manager, indirect supervisor, co-worker, teacher, peer or colleague.

How does a service member or civilian employee report harassment in the workplace?

DOD civilians must contact the equal employment office within 45 calendar days of becoming aware of the sexual harassment, to initiate the complaint process.

Military personnel can report harassment to the SHARP office or similar programs in other service branches (Air Force and Marine Corps have SAPRs and the Navy has SAPRO) and the reporting process depends on how they want to report:

• Anonymous complaint — Encourages the reporting of incidents while maintaining anonymity.

• Direct approach — Confront the harasser and inform the person that the behavior is not appreciated or welcomed and that it must stop.

• Third party — Ask someone else to talk to the harasser, to accompany the complainant, or to intervene on behalf of the complainant to resolve the conflict.

• Chain of command — Report the behavior to your immediate supervisor, others in the chain of command and ask for assistance in resolving the situation.

• File a formal complaint — Filed in writing, commander is notified, and requires a reprisal plan.

Can individuals report harassment behavior they may see occurring to someone else?

Yes, they can report it. All service members and DOD civilians have a responsibility to help resolve acts of sexual harassment. When individuals see something, say something.

What can co-workers or supervisors do to ensure safe and inclusive work environments?

Leaders should recognize they have the responsibility to ensure that each employee is aware and knows venues to discuss and get support. The SHARP Program reinforces the Army’s commitment to eliminate incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault through a comprehensive policy that centers on awareness and prevention, training and education, victim advocacy, response, reporting and accountability.

Why is Sexual Assault Awareness Month important?

Sexual assault is a horrendous crime that inflicts unimaginable pain on its victims. Preventing perpetration is the only guarantee to stop sexual assault before it occurs. Prevention must be part of a comprehensive approach and the first line in the effort to eliminate this abhorrent behavior from the ranks. It is everyone’s duty to foster a culture of trust so that service members, civilians and Family members will never engage in or tolerate actions that hurt other members of the team. That culture of trust begins with engaged leaders at all levels, not just during the month of April — but throughout the year.