JBLM launches sex assault resource center

JOINT BASE LEWIS McCHORD, Wash. -- A commanding general at Joint Base Lewis-McChord says sexual assault in the military is an epidemic, but he said the military is working to change that.

On Tuesday, the ribbon was cut on the new Sexual Harassment Assault Prevention & Response Program, or SHARP.

JBLM officials expect big things from the center, but they know there's much work to be done to end sexual assault in the military.

In May, former Army Sgt. Rebekah Havrilla testified before Congress about her own disturbing experience with sexual assault.

"I removed myself from training and immediately sought out assistance from an Army chaplain who told me, among other things, that the rape was God's will," she said.

It's stories like Havrilla's that have spurred recent action.

"Sexual assault in the military is unacceptable, period, " said Lt. Gen. Bob Brown. "It's a form of an insider threat that we call that cuts at the very fabric which makes our Army, our military, the greatest in the world."

Word is going out from the top down: The military is at war with those of their own who commit sexual assault. Commanders promise to defend the victims.

"It truly is changing the culture in the military and educating our soldiers on 'It's okay to report,'" said LTC Stephanie Johnson, co-director of sexual assault center.

Toward that end, the SHARP Resource Center has been launched at JBLM. It brings victim advocates, prosecutors, investigators and health care providers under one roof.

"The first of its kind in the military, this center creates a one-stop facility for victims and survivors of sexual assault," said LTC Rob Stelle, co-director of the center.

Johnson, who has seen two tours of combat in Iraq, said she's seen some uncomfortable situations.

"I have never been personally sexually harassed," she said. "I have seen that change significantly in the last several years."

Even though the ribbon-cutting was Tuesday, the center has actually been open a couple of months now and seven women have already come forward to complain of sexual assault.