While the media focuses on several sexual assault scandals rising out of military ranks, Fort Campbell officials are working to address the issue head on. Thursday, leaders at the base summoned local reporters to reinforce their commitment to eradicating such crimes.
Capt. Adriana Pin, chemical officer in the 1st Brigade, stood in her uniform at the Poncho Villa Grille near the installation’s main gate after finishing a meal with several male soldiers.
“If something were to happen to you, would you feel comfortable reporting it?” I asked.
“Yeah, because I never thought I would do it any other way,” Pin said.
Despite a Department of Defense report citing a 37% increase in estimated sexual crimes between 2010 and 2012, Pin feels safe in the military. She said she has worked in the ranks for more than 13 years and has never encountered an issue with sexual assault or harassment.
After widespread media attention on sexual assault cases, including some involving backlash against the alleged victims, Brig. Gen. Mark Stammer, senior commander of the 101st Airborne Division, wants soldiers to feel as secure as Pin does.
“You should feel comfortable in coming forth without any feelings of retribution, without any stigma attached,” he said. “Somebody did wrong to you, and there’s methodologies to investigate that, and if someone is found guilty of having committed one of these offenses, he’s punished accordingly.”
During the media round table discussion involving other Fort Campbell officials, Stammer said he thinks the recent increase in the military’s sexual misconduct cases could have resulted from a changing culture in which personnel feel more comfortable reporting incidents. According to the Department of Defense, the estimate numbers of Service members who experienced unwanted sexual conduct rose by approximately 7,000 between 2010 and 2012.
Stammer admits the military struggles with the issue, but he said officials have put several policies and programs in place to help curb the crimes.
“We are in the middle of our ‘SHARP Stand UP’ initiative, which began on Monday,” he said. “Our theme, ‘Rebuilding the Bonds of Trust’ is based on the belief that to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault from our ranks, it requires the effort from everyone in the community, soldiers, civilians and family members.”
The Army created the SHARP initiative in 2008. SHARP is an acronym for Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, and it is designed to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assault through prevention, investigation, accountability, advocacy, and assessment. The military also provides personnel with restricted and unrestricted reporting options. The former allows victims to access medical care and advocacy services without instigating an official investigation while the latter allows for both.
A military investigation, Stammer said, often travels up the chain of command and, depending upon the severity, could land in the military’s judicial courts.
“Based on the severity of the incident we’re talking about, there will be levels—judicial and non-judicial,” he said. “If it’s an egregious enough crime, it will enter into the judicial, and at some level, he’ll be recommended for court marshal, again, providing that the proof is all there.”
Stammer believes the system should stay this way—in the hands of the military chain of command. Commanders, he said, have the responsibility to look after their soldiers, even in instances of sexual harassment or assault. This comes after Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., proposed legislation that would take the authority to try serious cases, including those of sexual misconduct, outside the chain of command. Instead, Gillibrand proposes military prosecutors should decide whether or not to take alleged perpetrators to court.
“I understand Congress’s concern of wanting to put in outside lawyers and judges and that kind of program,” Col. Laura Favand said.
Favand, chief nurse for the 86th Combat Support Hospital, wants a system that works quickly and appropriately.
”If it turns into, it takes a year for a case to make it to court, that’s not necessarily justice on anybody’s part, either,” she said.
Favand, who’s tended to four sexual assault patients in her 24 years as a military nurse, said despite the media the attention on the issue she does not fear for her own protection. Like Capt. Adriana Pin, she feels safe at Fort Campbell.