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SHARP: Walking for 6769 + / Community addresses aftermath of sexual assault

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Enduring heavy rain, military service members and civilians began the first of 6,769 cumulative laps at the Natcher Physical Fitness Center track early Monday in observance of Department of Defense personnel who were victims of sexual assault in fiscal 2017.

Dr. Rushaunda Farmer, the Fort Knox Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, said SHARP: Walking for 6,769+ is meant to shine a light on the 6,769 victims who have reported sexual assault and on the uncounted others who are on a path they didn’t choose themselves.

“There’s a journey from victimhood to survivorship, and each individual takes their own path and timetable to get there, so many carry this on their own. They shoulder this all by themselves,” Farmer said. “The reality is that we are here and we’re prepared to walk this walk with them. Knowing that … may help victims of sexual assault come forward, which is often the first step.”

The walk is a five-day event that will conclude Friday, in which units and individuals sign up for time slots prior to getting on the track. Farmer said while there are a myriad of ways to bring awareness to sexual assaults, she felt a walk/run representing each reported assault would speak loudest to victims, would-be survivors and the community-at-large.

“We’ve had 5Ks, two-mile runs and things of that nature before,” Farmer said. “This is different because you’re walking with a purpose. Every lap is for a survivor, for someone who reported a sexual assault and even for those who have yet to come forward. We walk with them to help shoulder this burden.”

The message is clear and Farmer said it is broadcast to survivor and community alike.

“This sends the message to the survivor that this is important and that the community acknowledges what you’re going through. We acknowledge every one of these incidents — restricted, unrestricted, not reported,” Farmer said. “[The community] realizes [the immensity] of the issue. We’re here when you’re ready to report, if you’re ready to report, and even if you’re never ready to report. We are here with resources to help.”

Reporting violations is often the first time victims acknowledge what they’ve been through and that they’ve been violated, according to Farmer, who said that moment can in itself be liberating.

“This process is the opportunity to have your truth heard,” Farmer said. “That is something that you have control over in a situation you did not control. This is giving voice to yourself. Once you speak your truth, you’re not tied to the outcome anymore and you [have the opportunity] to let that go. Now, you can focus on healing and recovery. Speaking out is empowering.”

To speak out is to shed light on a subject that grows more sinister in silence, said Farmer.

“This is not just a Soldier issue. This is not just a civilian issue. This is an ‘us’ issue, and it will take all of us to change the culture and the mindset; that will mean changing the conversation,” Famer said, “People don’t want to talk about sexual assault because it’s not comfortable. So, if we sweep it under the rug, if we don’t talk about it [in many people’s minds], it’s not happening.”

Farmer said that she fears the majority of underreported sexual assaults are the majority populace of the Army.

“We know our primary victims are E1s to E4s, 18 to 24 years old, and we know that females are most of our reporters. However, in the military there are far more males than females,” said Farmer. “There are also far more male survivors then are being reported. They don’t come forward because of the stigma that comes from reporting a sexual assault. Part of our issue, again, is changing the culture so that victims can get the help they need.”

Farmer explained that getting victims the help they need is key to getting them past a revolving door of hurt toward proactively dealing with issues.

“You don’t have to be okay with the fact that it happened, but part of healing is learning to deal with it. You can’t ‘just not think about it,’ and eventually forget about it,” Farmer said. “There are triggers — a sight, a smell, a sound — the anniversary of the assault can take you back. There are tools to deal with it. It doesn’t have to consume or overwhelm you on your journey toward survivorship.”

Major Gen. John Evans Jr., commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, told the crowd gathered at the track Monday that the survivor walk also reminds America’s protectors to protect their own.

“We are continuing to see predators prey on our teammates, and we don’t allow predators to prey within our ranks,” said Evans. “This is an opportunity for us to create awareness of all the assaults we’ve had. We have to get after this. I want you thinking about that.

“Think about why we’re here, and think about what we’re trying to do.” n