The lead official for the Army’s Resilience Directorate emphasized the use of reporting procedures Tuesday for incidents of sexual harassment and assault to ensure the service is a safe environment for all.
While the chain of command and other Army agencies exist to maintain the safety and well-being of the force, the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program has specific measures in place to assist victims, said James Helis.
Reaching out for support will help stop the misconduct, he added, and allow the Army to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.
Harassing behavior can be a precursor to sexual assault, according to SHARP officials, and should be immediately addressed to deter escalation.
"The first step is to take care of the victim," Helis said. "The second step is to make the harassment stop."
Individuals subject to sexual harassment can lodge an informal, formal, or anonymous complaint to a range of official reporting agencies for support, Helis said.
- Chain of command
- Victim advocate or sexual assault response coordinator
- Inspector general
- Judge advocate general office
- Military police or a criminal investigation division, or CID
- Health care provider
Soldiers can always reach out to a military chaplain for support, but chaplains cannot take formal harassment complaints, Helis explained. "The chaplain is there to support a Soldier and help them understand what their options are. They can help connect them with the resources they need."
Outside the complaint process, individuals can always speak to their harasser directly, Helis said. In some cases, the harasser will stop once confronted.
If a Soldier or civilian is less inclined to speak to a harasser directly, they can employ an indirect communications method by sending the harasser a written message or lodging an informal complaint.
Submitting an informal complaint will not trigger an official investigation, Helis said.
An individual can seek assistance before confronting a harasser. The informal complaint process enables a third party to step in on the individual’s behalf to try and end the negative behavior.
Sexual harassment victims can also submit an anonymous complaint, which will be reviewed by the applicable chain of command. Other personnel who witnessed some form of sexual harassment can also lodge an informal or anonymous complaint, Helis said.
An individual's chain of command may or may not be able to act on the anonymous complaint, depending upon the information provided, he added.
If the informal process is unsuccessful, or if a Soldier wants to lodge a formal complaint, they must fill out a Department of the Army Form 7746, or Sexual Harassment Complaint, and submit it to an official reporting entity.
The complaint reporting process "is not a sequence," Helis explained. "Individuals can go directly to a formal complaint if they feel comfortable."
Once a formal complaint is submitted, the chain of command has three calendar days to act, SHARP officials said. Soldiers who file a claim against an individual within their chain must be referred to a higher authority.
The commander or appointed investigating officer will then have 14 calendar days to investigate the allegations. They will then meet with the victim to discuss the outcome and results.
Once the findings are released, the complainant will then have seven calendar days to appeal the decision, officials said. If a higher authority within the chain of command is dissatisfied with the investigation results or disciplinary actions, they can launch a new investigation. They have 14 calendar days to complete this process.
Final decisions on complaints rest with the general court-martial convening authority, officials said.
Sexual assault reporting
Anyone who is a victim of sexual assault, or suspects an assault, should not be afraid to seek immediate care, Helis said.
However, these individuals should understand the difference between restricted and unrestricted reporting, he added.
Individuals looking to file a restricted report can only do so through a sexual assault response coordinator, victim advocate, or health care provider, Helis said. A victim can confidentially disclose a sexual assault to a health care provider while still retaining the option to file a restricted report with a SARC or victim advocate. They will then have access to medical treatments, advocacy services, counseling, and the option for a forensic exam.
Communication between these entities is considered confidential and will not trigger an investigation.
Communication with a chaplain is also considered privileged and confidential. Soldiers can reach out to a chaplain for support, but not to report an incident, SHARP officials said.
In addition to the chaplain, personnel can call the Department of Defense Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247 or go to their website for confidential and anonymous services. The helpline is available worldwide at any time.
An individual will also have the option to enter their restricted report information into the DOD Catch a Serial Offender program, or CATCH, Helis said.
Soldiers can enter as much information that they can remember or feel comfortable sharing in the CATCH database, he added. Information can include names, ranks, or other distinguishing factors such as height or tattoos.
If the program identifies a serial offender, all victims connected to the perpetrator will receive a notification from a SARC. An investigation will be launched if the victims agree to change their reports to unrestricted.
"Sexual assault is a crime, and punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice," Helis said. "If a Soldier files a restricted report, they can change it to an unrestricted report at any time … they feel ready to participate in an investigation."
Soldiers who choose to file an unrestricted report can seek assistance through their chain of command, CID, judge advocate general, SARC or victim advocate, or through their health care provider, Helis said.
If a Soldier reaches out to their chain of command or through a law enforcement agency, they waive their option to file a restricted report. Upon reporting, victims will receive the necessary care and support, along with the option for a protective order against the other party, SHARP officials said.
"First-line supervisors and junior leaders are at the tip of the spear when it comes to preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment," Helis said. "They are responsible for building cohesive teams that do not tolerate behaviors that are harmful to other Soldiers.
"If a Soldier approaches them and says 'I'm having an issue with a sexual assault or sexual harassment,' they need to listen and take appropriate action."