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Congressional watchdog to review Army’s sexual harassment and assault prevention program

The Government Accountability Office accepted a request from Army veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to conduct an independent review of the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, or SHARP, program, Duckworth’s office announced Friday.

A full scope and timeline for the GAO review wasn’t released. But in her initial request in July, Duckworth asked that the GAO to design a survey to obtain soldiers’ views on the SHARP program’s effectiveness and shortcomings, as evaluated against the Army’s own stated objectives for the program.

Duckworth also asked that the GAO determine whether individual soldier experiences with the SHARP program comply with federal requirements, and asked that the GAO provide recommendations to the Army and Congress to address urgent and long-term issues hindering the SHARP program’s effectiveness.

The GAO review comes after Army Forces Command dispatched a small team in late June to specifically look at the SHARP program on Fort Hood in Texas. FORSCOM’s review was sparked by sexual harassment allegations that arose following the April 22 disappearance, and subsequent death, of 20-year-old Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who was based at the central Texas installation.

Guillen’s allegations, which her family said she was afraid to report for fear of reprisal — as well as the experiences of other service members who came forward with similar stories — prompted Duckworth to ask for GAO oversight of the Army’s SHARP program.

“The military’s inability to address this problem fails survivors and harms our military’s readiness, recruitment and retention efforts,” said Duckworth.

“I’m thankful that GAO is conducting this important review into the effectiveness of the Army’s SHARP program and I look forward to working with the GAO on this vital oversight,” Duckworth added. “We can and must do better to support survivors of sexual harassment and assault in our military.”

GAO spokesman Chuck Young told Task and Purpose that his agency’s review would start in a few months, at which time they would determine the scope and time-frame of it.

FORSCOM’s own review of Fort Hood this summer found that the post’s SHARP program overall meets Army standards. The review team distributed a written survey to about 225 soldiers from 12 battalions in six brigades on Fort Hood and held small group sessions with troops.

The survey results showed that roughly 90 percent of soldiers there have “high trust” in their leadership and approximately 86 percent hold a “high willingness” to report incidents to SHARP offices if they arise, according to Col. Patrick Wempe, the FORSCOM inspector general, who discussed the review with Congress in late July.

However, the review team also found that 18 out of 52 women surveyed on Fort Hood, about one-third, reported being sexually harassed. That number concerned lawmakers and prompted questions about whether the standards of success for SHARP programs need to be changed.

Another review is also underway at Fort Hood with a broader mandate to look at the command climate on post and in the surrounding community. Army senior leadership requested that the independent review, led by five civilian experts, provide a final report by Oct. 30.

While visiting Fort Hood in early August, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters that the review, among other things, will attempt to identify causes of high crime rates in the area.

“The numbers are high here,” McCarthy said during his two-day visit. “They are the highest, in most cases, for sexual assault and harassment and murders for our entire formation — the U.S. Army.”

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