Sexual assault is a persistent, sometimes life-changing problem across all military branches. It impacts Service Members’ mental health, performance, and readiness. The Department of Defense (DoD) received 8,866 reports of sexual assault in 2021, most of which were from active-duty Service Members. Reports of sexual assault increased 13% from 2020 to 2021. In 2021, 8.4% of all active-duty women and 1.5% of all active-duty men reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact. And DoD estimates the actual numbers are higher because of underreporting.
What can you do to help someone who has experienced sexual harassment or assault?
- Encourage them to report the incident. If a friend or colleague tells you they were sexually assaulted, encourage them to report it. They can contact a healthcare provider or Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), who can help them get support services to report the crime confidentially, without triggering an investigation or they can report to launch an official investigation. Survivors of sexual assault should be prioritized for behavioral health and medical care according to DoDI 5310.09. The sooner a Service Member reports the better, but there’s no time limit for how long after an incident they have to report. They can even report incidents that occurred prior to their commitment to service. Service Members can also receive help for incidents that occurred while off duty, such as a Reservist working their civilian job. Not only will reporting an incident provide support and resources, but reporting it also helps the Army and DoD better address the problem.
- Suggest they seek medical care. An important part of medical care after sexual assault is a sexual assault forensic exam to collect evidence from their body and clothes. These exams should be offered to survivors of sexual assault at every military treatment facility.
- Connect with resources for counseling and other care. Encourage them to get help from counselors, chaplains, or the DoD Safe Helpline via chat, app, or by calling 877-995-5247. They may also want to consult with legal services. Human Performances Resources by CHAMP has a list of additional resources to get help after sexual assault.
- Learn more about how to engage in self-care. It can help to find ways to build courage after sexual harassment and develop your spiritual fitness after sexual assault.
- Enroll in SHARP training to understand how to intervene as a bystander. Data from 2018 show that 88% of Soldiers intervened when they saw risky behaviors related to suicide, and 74% intervened when they saw risky behaviors related to alcohol abuse, but less than half of Soldiers intervened when they saw sexual assault or harassment. Understanding the bystander intervention process can empower you to prevent or reduce the problem of sexual assault and harassment moving forward. The Army offers a variety of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) training modules you can do.
- Know your role in reducing sexual assault. Part of being a responsive bystander is recognizing when to intervene. Sometimes sexual assault results from other risky behaviors, such as drinking too much alcohol. For example, if you see a friend or colleague who’s too drunk to make good choices, you might want to intervene when you see them leaving the bar with someone they don’t know (or don’t know well).
To learn more about the holistic health approach of Total Force Fitness—including mental, spiritual, and social health—visit HPRC-online.org.