Army initiatives focus on prevention; caring for victims

WASHINGTON — In an effort to better prevent sexual assault and other harmful behaviors, the Army will form a new, Integrated Prevention Workforce and revamp its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program. The SHARP changes include replacing part-time sexual assault response coordinators with full-time ones.

A Secretary of Defense Independent Review Commission on sexual assault in the military showed that the department lacked a central sexual assault prevention capability. The study also found that the military services did not direct enough of its efforts toward prevention.

“Among their key findings were that our efforts have primarily been focused in the sexual assault response area,” said James Helis, Army Resilience Directorate director. “And we needed to move to true prevention.”

The Integrated Prevention Workforce, or PWF, will be activated at posts throughout the Army beginning in fiscal year 2022 through 2027 to provide the central base for prevention. The entities will be comprised of specialists in fields such as psychology, sociology, and social work, and who have expertise in the prevention of harmful behaviors like suicide and sexual assault. The PWF will provide direct advice and counsel to senior commanders.

“The prevention workforce model is going to be an upgrade because it is providing a new capacity and capability for commanders,” Helis said.

The PWF will examine the social factors that lead to sexual assaults, suicide, domestic violence and substance abuse.

The Army will also implement a Lethal Means Safety Action Plan that helps limit access to lethal means such as medication and loaded firearms. The plan includes safety storage device education, locking device tracking materials and messaging tactics to discuss suicide.

Helis said the plan will provide counseling and education on lethal means and will involve the community in aiding suicide prevention. “We’ll approach it as a public health issue, a community issue,” Helis said.

Helis added that the PWF will study the unique cultural differences of each Army installation. For instance, installations in Alaska must deal with the psychological effects of harsh, isolated conditions, while other installations may have challenges unique to their unit and location.

“A professional workforce will allow the commander to identify risks and protective factors unique to their unit or location by using data and science,” Helis said. “This information will help them, in coordination with the PWF, to develop research tested, scientifically accepted ways to get at their particular risks and to enhance their protective factors. It’s a new way of looking at prevention.”

The PWF will help commanders design prevention plans as well as proactively study spikes in harmful behaviors at their installations. And commanders can collect data from installations with low rates of sexual assault, harassment and suicide and use that information for prevention plans at other posts.

“Commanders have lots of data available to them right now,” Helis said. “But often they don’t have the staff with the knowledge, expertise and time to be able to analyze that data so they can better understand the organizational climate.”

“The PWF can understand the risk and protective factors particular to their installation,” he added. “And they can help develop prevention activities after the installation that will help mitigate the risk factors.”

The Army, through the PWF, will focus on boosting the social determinants of good health which centers on five key domains: economic stability, education, health care, neighborhood and environment and social and community context. Helis said the service will pay particular attention to how it treats women and minorities and respect cultural differences.

The service will continue advocating for victims and has taken steps to further strengthen its response and care for victims.

The Army will implement an IRC recommendation to replace its collateral duty sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates with more seasoned, full-time personnel to provide higher quality care to victims. All collateral duty SARCs and VA’s will be phased out except those stationed in remote locations.

“They don’t have the experience or training to provide the highest quality services to victims,” Helis said. “When you take on a SHARP case that can become a near full-time responsibility to ensure victim care. Collateral duty SARCs and VAs sometimes find themselves in position where they’re torn between providing victim care and their primary duties.”

Helis said the Army will foster a protective environment by creating a culture of dignity and respect. The new focus area is in accordance with the Army’s People Strategy, which strives to address harmful behaviors like sexual assault, sexual harassment and suicide to build cohesion in Army units.

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