Sexual assault in the military remains a pervasive menace despite attempts to curb it globally. Sexual harassment occurs in the form of verbal and no-verbal gestures which create a hostile environment. Most sexual assault cases are unreported for fear of reprisal or lack of accountable leaders which create a culture of sexual harassment. Although some Army senior leaders believe sexual assault cases have decreased significantly, one sexual assault in today’s Army is one too many, and this is mainly due to lack of senior leadership involvement, inefficient Sexual Harassment Assault Response Program (SHARP) training, which leaves the stigma of sexual predators within formations.
Lack of Senior Leadership Involvement
Military leaders are responsible for creating a harassment-free environment and implementing policies for fighting any form of sexual harassment. Senior leadership sets the organizational code of conduct of what is expected, tolerated and condoned in the organization (Sadler et al., 2018). However, attempts to control sexual harassment is hindered by the military law itself whereby the chain of command normalizes sexual assault in military culture. The legal narratives in the military continue to reinforce female vulnerability and male supremacy, which have reduced accountability in military leadership. According to a study by Sadler et al. (2016), female victims of sexual assaults reported poor leadership skills such as sexual comments and lack of accountability in addressing sexual misconduct as significant risk factors increasing sexual harassment rates in the military. In most military services, senior leadership is uninvolved in or neglect reports about sexual assault. In other cases, senior leaders stop investigations about sexual assault and set aside convictions for perpetrators. Senior leadership allowing or expressing sexually demeaning verbal assertions or gestures increase the likelihood of sexual assault in the military service. According to Sadler et al. (2018), a leader’s disengagement from sexual assault reports creates a new chain of command where sexual assault reports are ignored, thereby enabling perpetrators to continue with the offences. Lack of senior leadership involvement leads to violation of code of ethics, which creates a hostile military environment.
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Inefficient SHARP Training
Inefficient Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Prevention (SHARP) increases sexual assault in the military by overlooking the need for a health risk reduction strategy. Sexual assault is a serious crime that should be accompanied by an effective crime reduction strategy. In the military service, prevention of sexual assault embeds heavily on the training offered to service members. The SHARP program overlooks the societal and normalized standards in the military that reinforce a military culture conducive for sexual harassment, thereby increasing the number of incidents. The sexual assault prevention training is offered to all service members irrespective of the service member’s position, age or gender. A program that trains all service members equally is inefficient. The training focuses on the legal aspects of qualifying sexual assault to be a crime and the reporting strategy. Such practice ignores the root causes of sexual assaults and the elements of the military culture that led to an assault. As described by Rock et al. (2014), service members under SHARP report lack of new information during annual sexual assault training which make them misinformed about recent trends in the prevention of sexual assaults in the military. Other service members view the trains as “check-boxes” for formality purposes (Skopp et al., 2019). The service members merely attend the training to confirm their attendance without necessarily accomplishing the goals of the SHARP program. Inefficient SHARP training lacks an actionable course of action needed by the military leadership to combat sexual assault and harassment in military services fully.
The stigma of Sexual Predators Within Formations
Stigmatization of sexual predators within military formations increases sexual assault rates by reducing their desire to change. According to Tan, Chu, and Tan (2016) perceiving sexual predator’s ability to change negatively increase stigmatization, due to the belief that the predators are likely to engage in sexual assaults regularly. The labelling theory suggests that the legal precedents in the military services continue to stigmatize predators under the guise of creating a conducive environment for military service (van Dijk, 2019). Labelling sexual assault offenders as ‘predators’ mirrors a social reaction that marks the assault as immoral. As a result, the offender is isolated from military formations, thereby increasing the likelihood of engaging in future sexual assaults. In military formations, service members involved in sexual assaults tend to be alienated or isolated for fear of re-offending. As stipulated by intergroup contact theory, formations between members of different groups lead to positive intergroup interactions (Dovido et al., 2017). In the military service, sexual predators are in regular contact with other military service members who hold negative attitudes towards them, which increases stigmatization. Additionally, sexual assault evokes moral outrage, which, coupled with the desire for punishment increases stigmatization in military formations. Sexual predators may internalize these aspects of military service in a way that fosters re-offending. The stigma of sexual predators produces adverse social reactions that propel sexual predators to engage in future sexual assaults.
Increased sexual assault in the army is a pervasive issue caused by the lack of senior leadership involvement in sexual assault reports, inefficient SHARP training programs, and stigma of sexual predators within military formations. Lack of senior leadership involvement in sexual assault reports creates a chain of command that fosters a hostile environment for sexual assault. SHARP training programs lack efficient crime reduction strategies which make it hard to prevent the occurrence of sexual assaults in the military services. Stigmatization of sexual offenders increases the likelihood of re-offending, and directly increasing sexual assaults in the army. It is critical for military services to implement risk-recognition strategies for sexual assault and evidence-based primary prevention programs to prevent sexual assaults in the army. This approach will enhance leadership accountability and make service members proactive in the prevention of sexual assault.
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Sadler, A. G., Lindsay, D. R., Hunter, S. T., & Day, D. V. (2018). The impact of leadership on sexual harassment and sexual assault in the military. Military Psychology, 30(3), 252-263.
Sadler, A. G., Mengeling, M. A., Booth, B. M., O’Shea, A. M. J., & Torner, J. C. (2016). The relationship between US military officer leadership behaviors and risk of sexual assault of reserve, national guard, and active component servicewomen in nondeployed locations. American Journal of Public Health, e1–e9.
Skopp, N. A., Roggenkamp, H., Hoyt, T. V., Major, H. M., & Williams, T. J. (2020). Army Sexual Harassment/Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Program (SHARP) Tiger Team: A Model to Inform Prevention. Military Behavioral Health, 8(1), 64-73.
Tan, X. X., Chu, C. M., & Tan, G. (2016). Factors contributing towards stigmatisation of offenders in Singapore. Psychiatry, psychology and law, 23(6), 956-969.
van Dijk, J. (2019). Galona’s review of victim labelling theory: A rejoinder. International review of victimology, 25(1), 125-131.