Despite a push in recent years to tackle its sexual assault and harassment problem, the Army is still falling short of preventing crimes in the first place, Army Secretary Eric Fanning said this week.

Addressing an audience of more than 100 from the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, the service's top civilian official lauded the organization's efforts to appropriately respond to reports over his last seven and a half years with the Defense Department, but the focus needs to turn more to prevention, according to a Thursday release from the Army.

"I feel like we've done a really good job of thinking through and applying resources. But we're not done," he said. "We also need to get focused on somehow getting to the point where we don't need to provide response."

While the Army has also included prevention training in its SHARP program, it's come in second to efforts to properly investigate incidents and provide support for survivors, according to the program's director.

"What we know is, we have put a lot of our emphasis on the response to sexual assault," Monique Ferrell said in the release. "And our primary focus on prevention has been on training. But training in and of itself is not a strategy. We need more. We are now shifting. We are going to do more things in terms of prevention. Our prevention plan is going to be more of action, versus just education."

To tackle the problem, the Army needs to do its research on how to identify predators and predatory behavior, as well as how to identify toxic command climates that could become breeding grounds for misconduct.

"Primary prevention is looking at what are the risks. And that differs based on the installation, unit makeup, the gender makeup, what types of units they are, and other factors," Ferrell said. "We need to understand what are the things that contribute to an environment for sexual harassment and sexual assault, have those unique attributes, by installation, and help those sexual assault response coordinators and victim advocates work with their commanders to understand what is the environment there, and then what they can do specifically to address those issues, to reduce incidence of sexual harassment and sexual assault." 

To dig down, SHARP is working with DoD's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office on an installation-based project, which so far has included a trip to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, to interview a cross-section of the post's officials about their SHARP climate.

Fanning would like to see SHARP headquarters become more of a support element that can help units address their individual needs rather than rolling out mandatory, one-size-fits-all guidance, he said.

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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