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PHOTO CAPTION:  Soldiers and civilians from the 25th Infantry Division and other units on Hawaii gather for a group photo during an 80-hour Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention certification course on Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii, Aug. 13.

August 26, 2013
By Sgt. Daniel Schroeder

WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii - The SHARP program reinforces the Army's commitment to eliminate incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault through awareness, prevention, training, victim advocacy, reporting and accountability.

Recently, approximately 50 new unit victim advocates from across Hawaiian Army units were certified after completing an 80-hour Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention certification course on Wheeler Army Airfield, Hawaii.

"The course established the skills needed to become a victim advocate to support victims should they encounter sexual harassment or sexual assault," said Jessica Lynch, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii sexual response coordinator, originally from Watertown, N.Y. "As a victim advocate, we have to assess the victim and give them what they need, educate them on what their rights are, and prevent future attacks on them and others."

The program is focused on creating a climate that minimizes sexual assault incidents by giving unit victim advocates the tools and resources they need to provide support to victims and educate and inform soldiers and leaders.

"As victim advocates, we must assist the victims by letting them know what their options are, what rights they have, resources available, and be a shoulder to lean on in tough times," said Staff Sgt. Sioualofa Mayville, 25th CAB victim advocate, a native of Pago Pago, American Samoa.

Unit victim advocates encourage victims to report incidents of sexual assault without fear and ensure sensitive and comprehensive treatment to restore victims' health and well being.

The program also establishes sexual assault prevention training and awareness programs to educate all of its soldiers. One tool the Army adopted is the Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering documentary "The Invisible War" which is helping soldiers understand the seriousness of sexual crimes.

"These new videos show soldiers that they are not alone in this," Mayville said. "I helped a soldier who decided to participate in the videos after she watched the first one. The videos put a face to the incident as opposed to a scenario during a PowerPoint slide."

Soldiers who have dealt with similar experiences before are noticing a change.

"I have had a very personal experience with this in the past," said Staff Sgt. Jacob Hargrave, 30th Signal Battalion operations tasking noncommissioned officer who just completed the 80-hour certification training. "We are stepping up our level and effectiveness of training. In my experience, we are on the right track for assisting victims, and preventing future acts of unwanted sexual contact."

The unit victim advocates also educate leaders to ensure they understand roles and responsibilities regarding response to sexual assault victims and thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual assault by taking appropriate administrative and disciplinary action.

"We are taking important steps to provide new training for commanders, strengthen our training enterprise for all service members, improve our investigative and military justice system capabilities, and further professionalize our first responders," Secretary of Defense Honorable Chuck Hagel said in a memorandum addressing Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. "Ultimately, we must ensure that every service member understands that sexist behaviors, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are not tolerated, condoned, or ignored."

The Department of Defense stated the rate of reported cases of sexual assault in the Army decreased from 2.5 per 1,000 soldiers in Fiscal Year 11 to 2.2 per 1,000 in FY12 in its FY 2012 annual report on sexual assault in the military.