The TRiMS team was composed of soldiers who wanted to improve our unit’s approach to sexual harassment and assault prevention–some individuals had formal training to be Victim Advocates (VA) and others were just passionate about the cause.

How many times do soldiers go to the range to qualify on their weapon? How many times have soldiers been to the field to train with their team? How many times have soldiers actually practiced sexual harassment (SH) prevention? If the answers are notably different, why?

The military trains service members to do their jobs in dynamic and immersive environments, conducting increasingly complex iterations to practice and then maintain proficiency. The military should approach training on sexual harassment prevention like it trains everything else, focusing on repetition, seriousness, iteration, and personal and team mastery.

One approach to SH prevention is bystander-intervention training. This training takes a communal approach to fostering a climate of dignity and respect. This training isn’t a new concept- many corporations use this approach for SH prevention. However, military units are uniquely suited to internalize such a training model for SH prevention programs because of an existing culture of training.

My unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord tried out bystander intervention training, a program which we call Trust in My Squad (TRiMS). The TRiMS team was composed of soldiers who wanted to improve our unit’s approach to sexual harassment and assault prevention–some individuals had formal training to be Victim Advocates (VA) and others were just passionate about the cause. The training facilitators then introduced the TRiMS training during Foundational Readiness Day, a day dedicated across the Army to build trust between Soldiers. The focus was on training all soldiers to identify and deal with situations that themselves would not constitute sexual harassment, but that could—if left unaddressed—contribute to an environment where sexual harassment might go without intervention. We argue that a truly effective SH prevention program deals with an individual’s “below the threshold” aggressions before they cross the SH threshold. It is precisely because this “grey area” is difficult and uncomfortable to deal with that we wanted to focus on it.

The program begins by teaching soldiers to recognize inappropriate comments and actions and then to intervene. For example, the first scenario given to the teams was of one soldier repeatedly asking another soldier about his/her weekend plans despite the second soldier’s clear discomfort. The first soldier never specifically asks the second soldier out on a date and never says anything of a sexual nature. A third soldier, the “bystander trainee,” participates in a roleplaying scenario with other team members to practice one of the intervention strategies they just learned. The other two participants were instructed to react realistically — if the bystander intervention was successful, the interaction concluded, but if not, it continued until the bystander succeeded or the facilitator stopped the training. If the soldier was successful, they proceeded to a more complex scenario. If the soldier wasn’t as successful, they were asked to run through the same scenario again. Between iterations, there was a brief review of what went well and what didn’t. During these transitions, soldiers talked about how they would want to have somebody intervene for them or how they would protect each other, and then they demonstrated in the next round. In repeating scenarios and engaging in more complex interactions, soldiers build not only their own confidence, but also confidence that their teammates will be there to take care of each other.

Unlike many Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) trainings, and more like other military training on issues that the Army has deemed essential to readiness, the training is active rather than passive. Soldiers do not simply watch a video, or a fully scripted interaction play out in front of them. Instead, the focus is on the soldier navigating the dynamic training and practicing preventing SH in a small group setting. This training can and should be run frequently to build and then maintain proficiency and build skills.

Practicing these scenarios does not eliminate the need for formal training on processes and resources. But practice helps put these requirements in context. TRiMS reviewed what soldier’s responsibilities and options were in the situation they witnessed and tied in a large number of resources. While all the Soldiers in the room had been through numerous iterations of the military’s SH training program, they had lots of questions about how it actually employed in realistically complex scenarios like the ones in front of them. More widespread adoption and evaluation would be required to assess the program’s effectiveness, but feedback from soldiers at JBLM is encouraging.

TRiMS aims to familiarize the soldier with the idea of intervention and to get them comfortable handling and discussing something that is inherently uncomfortable and often taboo.

Early feedback indicates that soldiers have previously witnessed interactions where a teammate was clearly uncomfortable, but soldiers reported they did not know how to address the interaction or whether something might fall under the umbrella of sexual harassment, which made them hesitant to say something. TRiMS aims to familiarize the soldier with the idea of intervention and to get them comfortable handling and discussing something that is inherently uncomfortable and often taboo. Further, it standardizes and trains on appropriate language for any soldier to be able to correct another. The training teaches them to balance our mandate to treat each other with dignity and respect with the need to confront a comment or action that might contribute to an unacceptably permissive environment for SH or SA. Operationalizing these skills and ensuring bystanders who intervene are protected will be a challenge, but that should not deter us from trying, especially if soldiers are engaged with the training.

I had never heard a soldier ask for more SH prevention training until we ran TRiMS. Soldiers were not only engaged during the session itself, but immediately were thinking of other scenarios to run– changing up anything from the entire scenario to just adding in a dynamic of rank to the scenario at hand. Soldiers also asked for Equal-Opportunity-focused scenarios and talked through situations they’ve experienced themselves. In a People First Army, TRiMS allows Soldiers to demonstrate to other Soldiers that they are not only valued by the group, but also to be protected. There were some skeptics. The first group of skeptics were concerned that the training would perpetuate the idea nobody could say anything because they feared repercussions. However, what we experienced instead, was that this training enabled soldiers to respond to an inappropriate comment or action before it spirals into something worse. It empowers people to have a simple and immediate conversation about behavior that doesn’t foster a climate of dignity and respect.

The second group of skeptics were concerned that this training did not sufficiently address what may be grooming behavior (i.e., behavior used to gain access to a victim, often through creating an environment that is permissive for SH or sexual assault.) Importantly, though, the training does not preclude people from using formal reporting mechanisms and resources. Instead, it is additive and recognizes that soldiers are confronted with these types of situations every single day and normalizes and forces the process for standing up for one another when currently we are staying silent. It gives soldiers real-world, practical skills to stand up for one another, instead of expecting them to do so without practice and the repetition of scenario-based training.

In one instance, one week after running the training, we had an unexpected measure of success. One soldier was making another soldier uncomfortable, and a third soldier intervened. The third soldier (the one who intervened) told one of our VAs about it, and the VA immediately asked how they could help. The soldier, smiling, told the VA that they didn’t need any help. Instead of ignoring the interaction, the soldier had felt equipped to immediately handle the situation. Surely, this is a success.

This training also asks us to have a victim-focused mindset where we prioritize the victim’s needs over the perpetrator’s. If this program is successfully able to reinforce a climate of dignity and respect, we might even end up being able to differentiate between individuals who missed a social cue once versus a perpetrator who is intentionally and repeatedly grooming. With a victim-focused mindset, we could also  help create trust in the SH program to encourage Soldiers to report, allowing us to deal with perpetrators more than we are able to now because soldiers aren’t reporting. TRiMS is a non-standard approach for how the military deals with SH training–it requires delegation of training below the level of formally certified instructors and then creates dynamic environments that don’t necessarily have a right answer. While it is by no means a full solution to the SH problem, it is an example of what our training should strive to look like. Further, this training program nests easily within existing resources for SH prevention and response. It requires minimal investments in resources and time, and it is built on improving the lived experiences of our Soldiers. It is victim-focused, without being victim-blaming. Essentially, it builds trust, through using the training mentality that we already have, that our soldiers can and will do the right thing.

Rebecca Segal is a First Lieutenant and Field Artillery Officer in the U.S. Army stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army, or the Department of Defense.

Photo Description: A Soldier from 1st Support Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne) fires an M4 carbine while an noncommissioned officer looks on during marksmanship training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina October 1, 2020. The Soldiers took part in the training, zeroing their individual weapons, in peparation for a battalion shooting competition.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by K. Kassens

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  1. Suggestion: If we are truly going to “train as we fight,” then what we may need to do is to better explain to our soldiers what the “the fight” is actually all about, and to better explain to them exactly what their role in this “fight” actually is.

    Explanation: “The fight” is best understood as the effort undertaken by the U.S./the West (for national security reasons) to alter the ways of life, the ways of governance, the values, etc., of the states and societies of the world (importantly, to include our own); this, so that same might be made to better provide for and better benefit from such things as globalization and the global economy. Stated another way, “the fight” is the effort undertaken by the U.S./the West to better provide for, and to better benefit from, such things as capitalism.

    There are at least two historically well-known “iron rules” associated with this such “fight.” The first of these such “iron rules” is that (a) in order to properly provide for and properly benefit from such things as capitalism, globalization and the global economy, (b) states and societies must routinely and continually be made to “change.” This such requirement, in a nutshell, is described by Robert Gilpin below:

    “Capitalism, a the distinguished economist Joseph Schumpeter pointed out, has benefited ‘the common people’ as much. Capitalism, he observed, creates wealth through advancing continuously to ever higher levels of productivity and technological sophistication; this process requires that the ‘old’ be destroyed before the ‘new’ can take over. … This ‘process of creative destruction,’ to use Schumpeter’s term, produces many winners but also many losers, at least in the short term, and poses a serious threat to traditional values, beliefs and institutions.”

    The second “iron rule” (which is directly related to the first) is that (a) the U.S./the West must be prepared to deploy its military, police and intelligence forces (both at home and abroad?); this, (b) to adequately deal with any resistance to the political, economic, social and/or value “changes” that capitalism, etc., requires.

    Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

    The prevention and elimination of sexual harassment is but one of the many “changes” that, today, capitalism, etc., (and, thus by extension, the U.S./the West) now requires. This, so as to — for national security reasons — better provide for and better benefit from such things as globalization and the global economy.

    From that such perspective, it now becomes necessary (as it has in the past) for our soldiers to (a) set the example as to this such necessary change and to, if called upon, (b) enforce this change — and others — both at home and abroad.

  2. Addendum to my initial comment above:

    As you review the quoted item that I provide from the World Bank below, consider whether you believe that this information, in whole or in part, supports some of my thoughts above. Herein, to specifically note:

    a. At the very beginning of this quoted item, the suggestion by the World Bank’s then-Interim President that “gender equality (likewise racial, ethnic, migrant, etc., etc., etc. equality?) is a critical component of economic growth” and (to understand just how important this is to economic growth) that “women are half of the world’s population.” And:

    b. At the very end of this quoted item, the suggestion that “the world is better off when it draws upon the talent of all its people.” (Regardless of sex, race, ethnic, national, etc., status?)

    (All items in parenthesis above are mine.)

    “Gender equality is a critical component of economic growth. Women are half of the world’s population and we have our role to play in creating a more prosperous world. But we won’t succeed in playing it if the laws are holding us back.
    To develop a better understanding of how women’s employment and entrepreneurship are affected by legal discrimination, Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform examines ten years of of data through an index structured around the economic decisions women make as they go through their working lives. From a 25-year-old getting her first job or a mother balancing work with caring for her children, to a woman on the brink of retirement, the index explores how the economic decisions women make are affected by the law.
    The data show there has been great progress towards legal gender equality over the past decade. In 131 economies there have been 274 reforms to law and regulations, leading to an increase in gender equality. This includes 35 economies that implemented laws on workplace sexual harassment, protecting nearly two billion more women than a decade ago. But the average global scores is 74.71, indicating that a typical economy only gives women three-quarters the rights of men in the measured areas.
    Many Laws and regulations continue to prevent women from entering the workforce or starting a business; discrimination that can have lasting effects on women’s economic inclusion and labor force participation. Economies that failed to implement reforms towards gender equality over the past ten years, for example, saw a smaller increase in the percentage of women working overall and in the percentage of women working relative to men.
    We know that achieving gender equality requires more than just changes to laws. The laws need to be meaningfully implemented — and this requires sustained political will, leadership from women and men across societies, and changes to ingrained cultural norms and attitudes. But by measuring progress over time and providing policymakers with a starting point for reform, Women, Business and the Law makes an important contribution to expanding equality of opportunity for women.
    Ultimately, the data shows us that laws can be tools that empower women rather than that hold us back from achieving our potential. By making the economic case, we encourage governments to guarantee the full and equal participation of women. After all, the world is better off when it draws up the talent of all its people.”
    Kristalina Georgieva
    Interim President, World Bank Group
    Chief Executive Officer, IBRD/IDA

    Bottom Line Thought — Based on the Above:

    If this “optimizing economic growth” rationale could be brought to bear better for our soldiers (see “the laws need to be meaningfully implemented — and this requires sustained political will, leadership from women and men across societies, and changes to ingrained cultural norms and attitudes”), then possibly our soldiers would be able to better make the connection between (a) the wants, needs, and desires of such things as capitalism, globalization the global economy, (b) the demands by same for political, economic, social and/or value change throughout the world and (c) the use of U.S./Western military, police and intelligence forces (etc.); these to (1) set the example as to these such changes and, if called upon, to (2) enforce such changes — at home and abroad?

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