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News | April 18, 2022

A conversation with DLA’s director of human resources on sexual assault prevention 

By Beth Reece

Sharyn Saunders knows the importance of sexual assault prevention. Before becoming director of Defense Logistics Agency Human Resources, she helped build the Army Resilience Directorate, which oversees the service’s efforts in ending sexual harassment and assault. She also served as a parole and probation officer for mostly sex offenders in her early career. 

“I recognize the horrible harm that sexual assault can have on victims and their families and friends and the negative impact to the workplace, our communities and society in general,” she said. 

In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, DLA Public Affairs spoke with Saunders about the success of DLA’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program and employees’ roles in prevention. 

Based on your previous experiences and what you’ve seen so far, how do you feel about DLA’s SAPR Program? 

I’m very impressed with our program and our sexual assault response coordinators. The agency has made great strides to address sexual assault and provides outstanding care and support to our victims. In early 2022, the Government Accountability Office conducted an audit with our SAPR Program and processes, and we fared quite well, which says volumes for our agency and our efforts in developing and implementing a robust program. 

How would you like our program to evolve?

In order for our organization to advance, we have to find ways to continue stretching ourselves and our goals. It’s been a long time since the National Defense Authorization Act of 2005 mandated the Defense Department implement the SAPR Program throughout all of the military departments. DLA established its SAPR Program in 2016. Without a doubt it has evolved with the same momentum as the services and offers as great of a capability as the service programs, which is pretty commendable. However, the rate at which sexual assault crimes continue changing our environment requires us to constantly identify, innovate and find the most effective approaches toward prevention. 

What are senior leaders’ roles in prevention?

Leaders have a duty to not only communicate the importance of the DLA SAPR Program but to also show employees how much they value their workforce. Part of that is setting high values and enabling employees to maintain them. It also includes promoting a culture of respect, ensuring the opportunity for safe reporting, supporting victims, holding offenders accountable and monitoring our training programs. Those should all be at the top of our senior leaders’ focal points when thinking about SAPR. 

How would you describe the impact of sexual assault on the workplace? 

First off, sexual assault is a crime, and it should be treated as such. DLA has a zero-tolerance policy for any sexual harassment and assault within our organization because it’s traumatic for our victims and their loved ones, and it’s highly disruptive to our workplace and mission. It also goes against our core values and high standards of professionalism. Any incidents within DLA not only affect the lives of our victims, but they affect our entire DLA community. 

Why should employees care about sexual assault prevention and response at DLA?

Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. That means that one out of every six American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Twelve percent of sexual assaults occur while the victim is at work, so this is really concerning data. When you take into account the proportion of the time that employees spend at work, it’s important for our civilians, military members and contractors to care about our prevention and response efforts here at DLA. A policy letter from DLA Director Navy Vice Adm. Michelle Skubic outlines the requirements for all employees to be part of the solution by engaging and not being bystanders. It’s our duty as employees to report any witnessed behavior of sexual harassment or assault to either supervisors, the SAPR hotline or sexual assault response coordinators.

What would you say to an employee who thinks sexual assault could never happen to them?

No one can predict who is going to be victimized by an offender. Sexual assault does not demonstrate prejudice, and therefore anyone can become a victim. We must be vigilant in how we conduct ourselves and pay attention to what’s going on around us. DLA supervisors and leaders also need to make sure we’re providing a safe environment for all our workforce. We all need to be vigilant and take care of each other to make sure these instances don’t happen.