Permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment’ found at Fort Hood
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Friday, December 11, 2020

Permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment’ found at Fort Hood

By Pamela Wolf, J.D.

No Commanding General or subordinate echelon commander chose to intervene proactively and mitigate known risks of high crime, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, according to an independent review.

On December 8, Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy and the five civilian members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee released the results of a three-month examination of the command climate and culture at Fort Hood, Texas, and the surrounding military community. The 136-page report found that command climate relative to the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program at Fort Hood was "ineffective, to the extent that there was a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment."

The Committee was tasked with examining the command climate and culture at Fort Hood and the surrounding military community to determine whether they reflect the Army's commitment to safety, respect, inclusiveness, diversity, and freedom from sexual harassment. The independent review arose from the questions and concerns raised by the family of Army Specialist Vanessa Guillén, Congress, and Hispanic advocacy groups during the investigation into the Guillén's disappearance and murder.

No intervention from the top. The report found that during the review period, no Commanding General or subordinate echelon commander chose to intervene proactively and mitigate known risks of high crime, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. As a result, there was "a pervasive lack of confidence in the III Corps SHARP Program and an unacceptable lack of knowledge of core SHARP components regarding reporting and certain victim services." Under the structurally weak and under-resourced program, the Sexual Assault Review Board (SARB) process was primarily utilized to address administrative and not the actualsubstantive aspects of the program.

SHARP program ineffective. Although it was a powerful tool by design, the SARB process became a "missed opportunity" to develop and implement proactive strategies to create a respectful culture, and prevent and reduce sexual assault and sexual harassment incidents, according to the report. The Committee found that the SHARP Program, from the III Corps level and below, was chronically under-resourced, due to understaffing, lack of training, lack of credentialed SHARP professionals, and lack of funding. "Most of all, it lacked command emphasis where it was needed the most: the enlisted ranks," the report states.

Underreporting. A symptom of the SHARP Program’s ineffective implementation was significant underreporting of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The report found that without intervention from the Noncommissioned Officers and Officers entrusted with their health and safety, victims feared the inevitable consequences of reporting:

  • Ostracism;
  • Shunning and shaming;
  • Harsh treatment; and
  • Indelible damage to their career.

Many have left the Army or plan to do at the first opportunity, the report said.

Crime and criminal investigation. The Committee also examined issues of crime and Criminal Investigation Division operations and determined that serious crime issues on and off Fort Hood were neither identified nor addressed. "There was a conspicuous absence of an effective risk management approach to crime incident reduction and Soldier victimization," the report states.

Senators respond. In response to the report, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ed Markey (D-Mass), noted that the Army is firing or suspending 14 Fort Hood commanders and other leaders. "The pervasive problems found by the independent investigation into Fort Hood demonstrate a gross disregard by Army leadership and the Command at Fort Hood for the safety and well-being of America's soldiers," the senators said. "It should not have taken the dozens of deaths of men and women of our armed forces at Fort Hood to trigger an investigation."

Found dead after reporting sexual assault. In September, Senators Warren and Markey and Representative Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) called on the independent review panel to include the case of Army Sergeant Elder Fernandes in its review of the base. The 23-year-old native of Brockton, Massachusetts, who was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, was found dead on August 25 after having gone missing on August 17, 2020. Shortly after he was reported missing, public reports showed that earlier, May, Sergeant Fernandes had reported a sexual assault allegation against a member of his chain of command and also became the target of bullying, hazing, and harassment.

News: Reports Surveys Discrimination SexualHarassment PublicEmployees GCNNews

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