Defense Logistics Agency employees have the responsibility to protect each other from sexual assault, the agency’s top enlisted leader said during an April 23 interactive information session at the McNamara Headquarters.
The “Got Your Back” training was conducted in two sessions and was open to both civilian and military personnel. The event was conducted as the Defense Department observes Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April.
DLA Senior Enlisted Leader Army Command Sgt. Maj. Sultan Muhammad said the interactive lecture was aimed at getting employees and service members involved and aware, especially so they don’t just “check the box” in preventing sexual assaults..
“As a senior leader, it’s imperative upon us to know the signs, have the right tools and have the right information to be able to combat this kind of situation,” he said. “We all have an opportunity and a responsibility to protect each other. The challenge, in a populated environment of civilians and all four services in the DoD, is we need to know how to communicate with each other respectfully.
“A human being, a person, has the right to be treated equally,” he continued, “so don’t treat this as business as usual. When you just check the block, but don’t take the information that is being presented in a manner in which you can utilize it and put it into play, we all fail.”
According to the Fort Belvoir Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program website, sexual assault is defined as intentional sexual contact, characterized by use of force, physical threat or abuse of authority or when the victim does not or cannot consent, regardless of gender, spousal relationship or age of victim.
The Got Your Back training used audience interaction to explore scenarios where bystander intervention can potentially stop sexual violence. As in any sport, training and practice makes perfect, and the same goes for sexual assault awareness training, said presenter Amber Kelly. She added that by practicing, employees will know what to do when a situation arises.
“One thing I can tell you is you already know someone who has been affected by sexual assault,” she said. “They may not have come to you with that information but should they come to you today, would it be within your muscle memory how to best help them?”
Asking employees to chime in with their thoughts and opinions, Kelly and fellow presenter Daniel Jean-Baptiste challenged employees to come up with scenarios and words regarding derogatory language, the meaning of “hook-ups” and the use of agreed consent, as well as how to identify and understand predators and predatory behavior.
Using derogatory words to describe men and women actually helps enforce stereotypes of both genders, even when it’s not true, Jean-Baptiste said.
“What do these words say about men?” he said. “These words seem to make men appear they are just interested in sex, unable to commit, unable to have a serious relationship, etc. … Using words, like ‘player’ and ‘pimp,’ tends to put a negative image on men that we know is not true. All men don’t fit these stereotypes. … So these words have a very negative effect on men and the way people view them.”
The use of derogatory terms, even popular ones, is damaging all the way around, Kelly added.
“Obviously we think this language is not great, so why do people still use it?” she said. “Because the purpose of this language is simply a label to put someone down and make them less than. And if we’re effective enough at it, what are we making them less than? Human.”
In addition, derogatory words can also create and foster a hostile working environment, Jean-Baptiste said.
“[This language] does create a hostile work environment as well as an unsafe one,” he said. “That’s part of the reason why that we need to get this language out of the workplace.”
Although there have been strides in the last few decades against sexual assaults, it’s still highly prevalent in the military, Kelly said, noting statistics from a researcher who interviewed women in all branches of the services.
“She found that 79 percent of them had experienced sexual harassment while in uniform, while on the job,” she said. “What that tells us is that has become the norm; the vast majority of people experience that. And once that language becomes the norm, and we say language effects behavior and actions, what is the action that some people took once that language became normal? They started using it more and taking action on it. And she found that 54 percent of these women had experienced abusive sexual contact. And she found that women working in hostile working environments had six times greater odds of rape. … So the language is doing several things and some of that is supporting that abusive behavior.”
Kelly said the most important thing for audience members to understand is how to support someone who may come forward for help.
“If someone comes forward and says they were raped, they are very likely telling the truth and they very much need our help and support,” she said. “Even if they don’t say they’ve been raped, but they are exhibiting these behaviors of dealing with stress and trauma, check in, [ask them], ‘Are you ok? Let’s get you to someone who can help you, someone that you can talk to.’ And also recognize the little bitty differences within there where we can potentially acknowledge and intervene.”