FORT IRWIN, Calif. — Fort Irwin Soldiers, families and community members marched to raise awareness of sexual assault and harassment during the sixth annual Denim Day walk at the National Training Center April 2. The event coincided with the kickoff of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Representing all of Fort Irwin’s major command groups, hundreds of participants joined together for the nearly 2-mile march through the community town center. They wore jeans in the tradition of the first Denim Day, an international movement that began in 1999 after Italy’s highest court overturned a rape conviction because the victim had been wearing tight jeans.
Fort Irwin observes Denim Day each year to help prevent sexual assault. It does so by raising awareness, educating community members about the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention (SHARP) programs, dispelling myths that can lead to victim-blaming, and empowering individuals to intervene when they encounter behaviors that can lead to assault.
Addressing the formation at the end of the walk, Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew R. Lowe, command sergeant major of the NTC and Fort Irwin, thanked those in attendance for their support of the event and the SHARP program. He also made clear that sexual assault and harassment are crimes that go against Army values.
“We are professional Soldiers, part of the Army profession – the people’s Army. We can do better. For those doing the right thing, thank you. If you see something that’s wrong, remember ‘I A.M. STRONG’ – Intervene, Act, Motivate,” Lowe said, referencing the Army’s campaign to engage all Soldiers in preventing sexual assaults before they occur. “It’s good that folks come forward and they trust in the chain of command, to tell them when something has happened, but we can all do better to intervene and act.”
One of the focuses of the Fort Irwin – NTC SHARP program is educating community members about sexual consent.
“[Consent is] to make sure that you’re engaging. Making sure that, hey, I’m asking questions before I touch you, or I’m asking if it’s something you’re ok with,” said Melissa Pinckney, the SHARP program manager for Fort Irwin and the NTC. “Because consent can be taken at any point, and I think that’s something that people may not understand. You can agree to a certain thing, but may not agree to something else, and it’s ok to do so.”
In addition to Denim Day, the Fort Irwin – NTC SHARP program conducts regular training with command groups and units at Fort Irwin, and several units have started their own campaigns to raise awareness by performing educational skits. The SHARP program is also kicking off a new social media initiative to encourage community members to share photos of handwritten signs proclaiming positive affirmations and support for sexual assault and harassment victims. The initiative aims to keep the community engaged and talking about the topic of sexual assault, and to empower victims to come forward, Pinckney said.
Across the Army, the sexual assault prevalence rate decreased 27 percent between 2014 and 2016 for the Army’s Active Component. According to the 2016 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Service Members (WGRA), 87 percent of Army females indicated they would report if they experienced a sexual assault, while 91 percent of Army males indicated the same. The WGRA is conducted every two years. Results of the 2018 survey will be published next year.