One after another their faces fill the screen. They are familiar. They are men and women we served with, from our neighborhoods, from our lives. Their stories are each unique and yet somehow the same. One by one, from each of the services, enlisted and officer, they talk about being sexually assaulted while serving in the military.
These interviews are the focus of a 2012 documentary, The Invisible War, which highlights the ongoing issue of sexual assault within the military. In February, I Corps issued an operations order that directed all corps personnel in the rank of sergeant and above to view the film.
As soon as I saw (the documentary), I could understand why it was important for people to see it, because it really is a bit of a punch in the face a chance to look at ourselves in the mirror, said Col. Ruben J. Rodriguez, I Corps Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program manager.
Regardless of the intent of the documentary, and in some ways it doesnt show the military in a good light, it is a reality check. I think that it has made a big difference and will continue to make a difference.
Rodriguez said the film expands on current SHARP training by showing the impact of sexual assault on a human level. Not only does sexual harassment and assault degrade mission readiness, it often degrades the quality of life for the victims whether they stay in or leave the service.
According to the film, 40 percent of homeless female veterans were victims of sexual assault during their service. Many of the victims interviewed in the film discuss their continued battles with depression and suicidal ideation.
This film, to me, provides the reason why this training is important; why you need to pay attention when the training is going on, why you need to focus on how we change the culture within the military, why it is important for more people to be aware and not be blinded to the fact that those things are going on, said Rodriguez. It gets your attention, and you start thinking about it, and you start looking at how that could affect your command or your unit and then you can start initiating change.
Rodriguez said he feels the military is heading in the right direction. He said for the first time senior leadership has acknowledged sexual harassment and assault is a problem, instead of pretending the problem doesnt exist.
By owning the problem, he said, it will help generate the solutions which will help decrease the rates of sexual harassment and assault and create an environment where predators know they are not going to get away with it.
One of the positive steps, in his opinion, is the requirement for one full-time sexual assault response coordinator and one full-time victim advocate at the brigade level and two collateral duty VAs at the battalion and company level. This equates to more than 400 trained SHARP personnel throughout I Corps in place to help both Soldiers and their adult dependants with sexual harassment and assault reports.
Soldiers are now asked if they were sexually assaulted prior to leaving the military, setting them up to receive treatment, should they choose, as veterans. There will be a requirement for all in-bound and out-bound personnel to meet with a SARC as part of their processing. Victims also have the choice, if they elect an unrestricted reporting option, to request an expedited transfer from their current unit and if it is disapproved at a lower level, then the request is reviewed by a general officer and may be granted.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and units across Joint Base Lewis-McChord are doing their part to show their support for sexual assault prevention and the fair treatment of sexual assault victims. The 7th Infantry Division is sponsoring a run/walk on April 20 at 8:30 am at JBLMs Wilson Sports and Fitness Center. The I Corps SHARP office is sponsoring Denim Day, April 24, also a national event, which will allow Soldiers to wear denim or display denim as a statement against blaming sexual assault victims for what they wore during an attack, and the Clothesline Project, which will authorize Soldiers to wear decorated brown uniform T-shirts to speak out against sexual violence throughout the month. There is also an art and essay contest devoted to ending sexual harassment and assault in the Army that began March 22 and will run until April 22.
But the main focus of the I Corps SHARP office is to encourage Soldiers to take advantage of the 24-hour number, 389-8469, to safely and confidentially report sexual assault with the option of electing a restricted or unrestricted reporting preference and get assistance with and information on sexual harassment complaints. We just want them to pick up the phone and call somebody and not have to deal with it alone and to give the victim the respect and dignity they deserve, said Rodriguez.
A copy of The Invisible War can be checked out by unit SARCs.