By Staff Sgt. Noshoba Davis, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team
ERBIL AIR BASE, Iraq – The month of April is not only known as the Month of the Military Child, but also Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM). Each year the U.S. Army uses the month of April to reemphasize and remind the Army team about ongoing efforts and that sexual assault prevention remains a top priority.
The Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) Cpt. Ashley Williams, hosted multiple events throughout the month of April to bring awareness about sexual assault to Soldiers and Coalition Forces at Erbil Air Base (EAB). These events included a guest speaker, a proclamation signing, and a virtual 5K.
“Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month is a time of focused action,” said Williams. “SHARP is always a priority for leadership, however, during the month of April SHARP professionals and leaders engage in dedicated efforts to ensure all service members and personnel under their individual spheres of influence understand that we are resolved to prevent incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault before they happen.”
Williams explained if a service member betrays the Army values by committing an act of sexual assault or harassment; Soldiers want to know that awareness has been raised in regards to difficulties, complaints and survivors.
“We stand ready and able to assist and support in any way we can,” said Williams.
Col. Scott Desormeaux, commander of the 256 IBCT, Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Comeaux, senior enlisted advisor of the 256 IBCT, and Cpt. Williams hosted a SAAPM Proclamation signing at EAB to highlight the command’s stance against sexual assault.
Before signing the proclamation, Desormeaux took a moment to challenge commanders, and explain his stance against sexual assault.
“Like with every operation, you have to ask yourself what is the end state and how do we get there? So what does our end state look like when it comes to sexual assault and sexual harassment? Obviously our end state would be that it is gone,” said Desormeaux. “A word I want you to remember is retribution. The fear of retribution often keeps people from reporting something.”
Desormeaux continued, “If you look at it completely, how do we get to the end state where reporting is a mechanism of not just prevention, but rehabilitation as well where people learn from their mistakes. Soldiers need to know that as a commander they’ve got a friend that they can sit down and talk to about these things. Our job as a commander is to figure out how to take that discussion and turn it into something positive while working towards the end state of ridding our ranks of sexual assault.”
Desormeaux and Comeaux signed the proclamation making the commitment to stop sexual assault.
The end of the month saw Soldiers from across EAB participating in a virtual 5K to bring awareness about sexual assault, and to take a stand against it. Soldiers had between April 15 and April 24 to complete the virtual 5K. Those who participated tracked their run using any app that tracks distance while running or walking. Soldiers then submitted their times and distance to the brigade SARC. On April 24, Soldiers who had completed the 5K received various items, from a t-shirt to a water bottle and sunglasses promoting sexual assault awareness.
“I ran the 5K to support the efforts of the SHARP program and raise awareness to combat sexual assault with appropriate actions,” said 2nd Lt. Dominitra Charles with 256 IBCT. “Running the 5K allows me to be a voice heard by those affected to let them know they have people in their corner and are not forgotten about. While it is important to focus on response prevention, it is also important to be a support system for those that are affected and their loved ones.”
Soldiers with the 256 IBCT were allowed the opportunity to wear denim on Denim Day to show their support for sexual assault prevention. Denim Day is observed every year on the last Wednesday in April in recognition of a case involving sexual assault in Italy back in 1992. The case involved an 18-year old girl who was raped by her driving instructor during a driving lesson. The instructor was convicted of raped and sentenced, but released after the Italian Supreme Court overturned the sentence.
The Italian Chief Judge argued, “Because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.”
“Denim Day provides an avenue to discuss harmful viewpoints and ridiculous falsehoods around sexual assault and harassment. These falsehoods affect sexual assault incidents and survivors,” said Williams. “The facts about sexual assault are often disregarded in favor of myths that make people more comfortable, because that myth allows a person to say ‘I don’t fit into that category, so I’m safe. One’s clothing should not be considered a contributing factor, nor any other fictitious justifications that allow perpetrators to redirect their guilt.”
Denim Day plays a significant role to help combat destructive attitudes and myths that surround sexual assault.
Williams continued, “Do not be fooled into a false sense of complacency. Men are sexually assaulted. More often than not, the person who assaults you is someone you know. Consent is necessary, especially when someone has been drinking. I appreciate the annual, international observance of Denim Day, and other events like Take Back the Night, because they open the floor for discussion on these very important issues.”
The Army’s Sexual Harassment Assault Response Program’s (SHARP) primary mission is to enhance Army readiness through the prevention of sexual assault, sexual harassment and associated retaliatory behaviors while providing comprehensive response capabilities.
Here are some pictures from the Brigade:
Louisiana National Guard’s Col. Scott Desormeaux, commander of the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Comeaux, the senior enlisted advisor of the 256th IBCT, hosted a Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month Proclamation Signing at Erbil Air Base on April 11, 2021 to highlight the command’s stance against sexual assault. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Noshoba Davis)
Soldiers at Erbil Air Base participated in a virtual 5K to raise awareness about sexual assault. The Army's Sexual Harassment Assault Response Program's primary mission is to enhance Army readiness through the prevention of sexual assault, sexual harassment and associated retaliatory behaviors while providing comprehensive response capabilities. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Noshoba Davis)
Soldiers with the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team wear denim on Denim Day to show their support for sexual assault prevention. Denim Day is observed every year on the last Wednesday in April in recognition of a case involving sexual assault in Italy back in 1992. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Noshoba Davis)