Academic journal article Military Review

Winning the Fight on Sexual Assault in Our Army: Starting in Basic Combat Training

Academic journal article Military Review

Winning the Fight on Sexual Assault in Our Army: Starting in Basic Combat Training

Article excerpt

The rise in reported sexual assaults within the military has caused concern amongst senior military leaders and lawmakers--as well as parents contemplating allowing their sons or daughters to serve in the armed forces. (1) These concerns have translated into policy changes and increased scrutiny of how the military approaches sexual harassment and sexual assault, and the culture of personal conduct, within its ranks.

Over the past few years, the focus on preventing sexual assault and harassment has led to new training programs, reporting processes, and

engagement by military leaders at all levels. As the former commander of a basic combat training (BCT) brigade at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, responsible for gender-integrated initial entry training (IET) for thousands of new soldiers every year, I have seen a positive change occurring in combating this critical issue within our Army. Although the campaign to rout this problem fully from our formations will be long, every day our soldiers and leaders are winning small battles in this fight through a series of actions to prevent sexual assault and harassment and, when such incidents do occur, with methods to respond more effectively.

In IET, we have the primary mission to transform civilians into soldiers. It is within this transformative process that setting the proper conditions and culture for the prevention of sexual assault and harassment begins. In BCT, there is a critical window of opportunity to turn the tide against sexual assault by establishing a proper moral foundation for the newest soldiers in our Army. However, this can only be successful if there is a collective group of professional cadre enforcing proper systems and procedures, operating within a healthy, disciplined organization, and climate. Further, commanders cannot solve this problem on their own; they need partnerships with key supporting organizations on their installations, such as Medical Command, the Criminal Investigation Command, and Army Community Services, as well as local civilian hospitals and universities, to fully leverage critical resources in their Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) campaigns.

By utilizing multiple lines of effort, commanders, senior noncommissioned officers, drill sergeants, and instructors can be successful in reducing sexual assaults and harassment in their organizations. This requires carefully taken steps to create a professional climate focused on respect, standards, discipline, and trust. The process of combating sexual misconduct must be holistic and deliberate, with a body of engaged leaders at every level.

At Fort Jackson, we achieved encouraging results from the intensive efforts across our installation and within our units to tackle this issue. During my tenure in a BCT command, I found that focusing our organization's efforts on its culture, reception and integration processes of new soldiers and cadre, systems and processes, and engaged leadership was instrumental in reducing sexual misconduct. (2) Although not fully inclusive or applicable to every unit, the following points may assist others in charting their own paths to addressing this complex problem.


The IET environment, as the first experience of the Army for new recruits, must imbue them with the highest standards of professionalism and conduct. New soldiers will emulate what they see their leaders say and do; therefore, IET leadership and cadre must exemplify those standards in all their actions.

Recruits enter the military with a wide variety of moral and ethical beliefs based upon their childhood, education, and culturally accepted behaviors of their previous social groups. Many times their individual value system is not congruent with Army values or the military's accepted norms. In BCT, the majority of SHARP reports involve trainee-on-trainee incidents related to acts of unwanted physical contact, inappropriate sexual comments, unacceptable "gym locker room" horseplay, and fraternization. …

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