A sweeping new government watchdog report released last week says the Army needs to speed up progress on reforming its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program, more commonly known as SHARP.
The Government Accountability Office report acknowledged that the service has been trying to implement policies to improve the SHARP program in the wake of a department-wide independent review of its prevention and response efforts. But GAO officials concluded that the Army’s SHARP policy is “disjointed [and] unclear,” which in turn leads to “confusion for commanders and SHARP personnel.”
According to the report, the SHARP program’s administration is distributed between 14 different policy documents, and a unified SHARP regulation first promised in February 2017 still has not materialized. In its response to the report, the Army said the regulation will release by Oct. 1.
The report also highlighted disparities between Army SHARP guidance and Defense Department policy.
The guidance problems are compounded by systemic issues with staffing and program oversight, as well as an inability to measure the SHARP program’s success through existing metrics, the report said.
“The Army does not know whether its efforts to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and assault are succeeding,” GAO officials wrote in the report.
The GAO recommended that the service speed up the regulation’s publication, establish and enforce metrics and performance measures, assess and remove barriers for reporting sexual harassment or assault and centralize current resources and guidance on the program in one place.
The Army’s plan to fix SHARP
The report comes amid the Army’s work to completely reform the SHARP program.
Last year, the service announced a pilot program for centralizing victim services at six installations around the country. That was one of the first reforms to emerge after the reports compiled by the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee and the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military.
Army officials signaled then that a larger redesign of SHARP was underway, but details were scarce.
The Army’s responses to the GAO report in a memorandum signed by Army Undersecretary Gabe Camarillo acknowledged that “the entire SHARP program is being restructured” and offered new information on what soldiers can expect, in addition to the new regulation on Oct. 1.
Lead sexual assault response coordinators on installations are now considered special staff who report directly to the local senior commander, which will facilitate “immediate and unimpeded access” to the leader, Camarillo said. Other efforts are underway to advertise a website recently updated to include a commander’s SHARP resources toolkit.
The service will also soon have new governance and oversight that will “enforce commander accountability for program implementation and inspection result findings,” said Camarillo. He added that new resource tools and increased staffing in senior SHARP oversight roles will improve the way the redesigned program operates.
Camarillo also highlighted ongoing research efforts that aim to identify why victims of sexual assault and harassment don’t always report their experience and offer “evidence-based” plans for overcoming those obstacles.
The RAND Corporation has one study underway that is assessing whether problems with unit climate can predict sexual assault risk. A second RAND study, which is yet to begin, will use soldier focus groups to delve into everyday experiences of sexual harassment and discrimination, “including analysis of barriers to existing prevention services and sexual harassment reporting,” said Camarillo.
Those studies, and a third by the Institute of Defense Analyses examining troops’ sexual harassment reporting experiences, will help Army leaders determine the way forward for further reforms, according to the memorandum.
It’s still not clear how other key portions of the service’s SHARP reforms will unfold, such as when the service will have commanders fully removed from sexual assault or sexual harassment charging decisions.
Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.