In years past, the annual Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month kickoff received a lot of fanfare. The CASCOM commanding general would give a speech in front of a large crowd and senior leaders signed a poster-size proclamation with multiple cameras capturing the moment.
This year’s SAAPM launch at Mifflin Hall was without hoopla. Only a few people were on hand to witness the March 30 proclamation signing due to the threat of Coronavirus.
Despite the lack of ceremonial aesthetics, however, it was consistent in commitment and seriousness, observed Dr. James Walker, manager of CASCOM’s
Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program.
“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re going to cancel or modify some of the events that were scheduled for the month,” Walker said, noting social distancing recommendations have to be followed to prevent the spread of the virus. “At the same time, we’re not going to undermine or dismiss this as though it’s not important. It’s very important.”
Among the events cancelled are the annual CASCOM and Fort Lee SHARP Golf Scramble originally scheduled for April 23 and the 23rd Quartermaster Brigade track and field meet that was set for April 25.
Staff Sgt. Ilia BerriosCruz, the installation sexual assault response coordinator who works closely with Walker, also said SAAPM is not going to take a break amid the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.
“We just have to be more creative,” she said. “With technology, we can continue to push our messages.”
Live-streaming and social media are some of the ways organizers will attempt to fill the void during the month-long schedule of events, BerriosCruz said.
The theme for this year is “Building Cohesive Teams through Character, Trust and Resilience; Protecting Our People, Protects Our Mission.” According to the DOD SAAPM website, the focus of the observance is education and awareness –ensuring military members understand how the processes work and how to file reports while comprehending the toll sexual assault has on victims.
“While promoting awareness of the crime and the resources available is important, we cannot stop there,” wrote Navy Rear Adm. Ann M. Burkhardt, director of the DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, in a 2019 letter. “Sexual assault is a horrendous crime that inflicts unimaginable pain on its victims. Preventing perpetration is the only guarantee to stop sexual assault before it occurs. Prevention must be part of a comprehensive approach and our first-line of effort to eliminate this abhorrent behavior from our ranks.”
For more information about the Army’s SHARP program, visit www.preventsexualassault.army.mil. For info about DOD’s SAAPM efforts, visit www.sapr.mil/saapm. Look for local campaign PSAs on the CASCOM, Fort Lee and subordinate unit Facebook pages.