Taking Ownership: The Problem of Command Teams and the SHARP Program

I spent 12 months managing a division-level Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program. It was evident, commanders have varying opinions on what “success” means in SHARP. It was even more clear Commanders were not in sync with the inner workings of their programs. The more senior in rank the commander was, the more detached from the program they appeared. It was obvious to those who worked closely with the brigade-level SHARP programs, which ones were successful and which ones lacked any command influence. But no matter how unsuccessful the program was, the commanders at all levels weren’t the ones whose feet were held to the fire. The Victim Advocates and the Sexual Assault Response Coordinators bore the brunt of the criticism and were often blamed when things went wrong.

When I saw the XVIII Airborne Corps call for soldiers to submit their ideas for changes to the SHARP program, I took a notebook full of notes I made while I was a Program Manager, and drafted a recommendation titled, “The Command Team Problem.” As I saw it, the first problem we need to fix in SHARP is the apathetic commander – and force commanders to finally take responsibility for their program.

Army Regulation (AR) 600-20 makes in irrefutably clear that SHARP is a commander’s program. “Commanders are responsible for the success of the SHARP Program, including prevention, annual training activities, compliance with required response actions when acts of sexual harassment or sexual assault are reported, and victim support.” It is right there in black and white. Commanders are solely responsible for SHARP programs at their level. 

For commanders at various levels, how is “success” of a SHARP program defined? Additionally, what are the mechanisms or reviews in place to hold commanders responsible when they don’t create and maintain successful programs? Policy level changes take time and policy level changes must happen. However, the small recommendation I propose is something that can be done today.

I propose each battalion develop a SHARP standard operating procedure (SOP). The SOP should be developed in a think tank style with all leaders, first sergeant (1SG) and above, in the room.  The battalion commander must ensure the Victim Advocates and judge advocate general (JAG) are there providing input where leaders aren’t trained.  The contents of the SOP should include:

Training: 

  • What type of leader will the Battalion Commander pick to take charge of the SHARP education of their formation?
  • The minimum traits and qualifications of your trainers and what the interview process with the Battalion commander will look like. 
  • Beyond what the Army requires for training, what additional topics (bystander intervention, leadership roles and responsibilities, etc..) will the organization cover over the year?
  • Will you tier the training and what rank structure and training plan will each tier look like?

Reporting:

  • What exactly is your Battalion reporting process, from start to finish?
  • Beyond the requirements of unrestricted and restricted, who will be “in the know” once a Sexual Assault happens in your formation?
  • What is the role of the Battalion Command Team, the Company Command team, first line leaders?
  • What will be the first steps in ensuring the victim is ok?
  • What steps will your unit follow in the weeks beyond the case to ensure the safety and well-being of the victim.
  • What is the reporting process if the person in your unit was the one accused of committing the assault?
  • How will the leaders ensure their safety? What are the limits in regard to actions you can take for or against the accused?

Advocacy:

  • The Victim Advocate is arguably one of the most important jobs for a SHARP program since they have direct access to survivors of Sexual Assault, and that contact can be as soon as hours after an assault. 
  • At a minimum your SOP should include: What is the hiring process in the Battalion for that position of trust?  What are the minimum qualifications (beyond those in place by the Army) and values of the person who will be hired?
  • A list of interview questions that cover a wide variety of topics that would indicate whether or not the unit victim advocate has the maturity, education and values that are required to be in that position of trust.

It is important to remember this is just a baseline of questions and that is imperative that you use the process to attempt to find more.  Prevention efforts do not begin and end with those that you send to become SMEs in your formations, they are there to assist the commander.  The programs begin and end with the commanders and it is time for commanders to take charge and be held responsible for their failure to engage in a program delegated to their charge.


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About the Author: CPT Sara Ingrao is a military police officer who received her commission through Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning in 2011. Sara is currently assigned to American University in Washington D.C. obtaining her Masters in Public Administration and will be attending ILE at Fort Leavenworth this fall. She is a wife and mother to two sons.

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