Story by SGT Jeremiah Meaney on 09/22/2019The Fort Bragg 5th Annual Special Victims Summit was held September 19th and 20th at the Iron Mike Conference Center. Over 800 members of law enforcement, medical professionals, attorneys, Army leaders, and victim advocates were in attendance as presenters shared their expertise in a variety of methods. The event was sponsored by the XVIII Airborne Corps and Womack Army Hospital, and organized by Fort Bragg's Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) professionals and victim advocates.
Following an introduction and invocation, the opening remarks of the two-day event were given by Lieutenant General Paul J. LaCamera, Commanding General of XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg. Having recently returned stateside following 12 months in Iraq leading Operation Inherent Resolve, Lt. Gen. LaCamera was just as resolute in taking on the subject of sexual assault and harassment. "We are who we choose to be," he told the audience, "and today I invite you to choose to have an open mind. Be self-aware and challenge your own bias. Only then can we as an Army, and as a community, be better tomorrow than we are today."
Among the speakers was retired Chief Warrant Officer Edward Wilson, whose message against sexual assault and harassment took aim at passive bystanders. Through direct and unfiltered performances of spoken word poetry, Mr. Wilson pulled no punches critiquing those who may not commit sexual assault or harassment but permit conversations that normalize the crimes. Sayings like "that's what she said" were cited within clever verses that brought attention to the audience's shared responsibility in preventing future offenses.
The summit also featured Dr. Chris Wilson, a trainer and consultant whose organization, Being Trauma Informed, aims to foster understanding in the science of trauma. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Dr. Wilson discussed concepts ranging from typical functions of the brain to some of the common coping mechanisms of trauma victims.
Following a lunch with another spoken word presentation by Edward Wilson, the event began to delve into real world incidents, putting faces to the theme of sexual assault and harassment response and prevention.
Paul Jackson, a Senior Assistant District Attorney to Johnston County, North Carolina, discussed the tragic story of Teghan Skiba, the child of an Army Reservist who was tortured and murdered over the course of 10 days by her mother's boyfriend. Assisted by developmental and forensic pediatrician Dr. Sharon Cooper and forensic odontologist Dr. Richard Barbaro, both of whom contributed to the killer's eventual prosecution, the trio revealed details of the case which not only documented the brutality of the crimes, but the signs of abuse which could have been recognized and stopped long before the final assault and murder.
The focus on prevention would be highlighted again in the case of Bryant K. Marsh, a former Soldier who had been accused of sexual assault at various times throughout his career before ultimately being convicted for the rape of a fellow Soldier. The details were presented by Major Jeremy D. Broussard, a Judge Advocate involved in the case. During the example, Maj. Broussard warned against complacency, as he noted several key moments where Marsh's leaders had failed to act in the years leading up to his conviction's inciting incident.
Other topics on the first day included exploitation and drug misuse. Kaylynn Foulon, a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, discussed the modern plight of children and adults as predators utilize and abuse technology to take advantage of their victims. Noting real-world cases, Mrs. Foulon recounted incidents that began as internet acquaintances but ultimately led to extortion, kidnapping, trafficking, and death.
The second day of the summit was aimed at a more concentrated selection of Fort Bragg's senior leaders, chaplain corps, and victim advocates. A panel of speakers shared their diverse experiences of sexual assault and harassment, with psychologist Dr. Alan Berkowitz guiding the underlying discussion on the measures everyone can take to drastically reduce offenses. A subject matter expert for the United States military in sexual assault prevention, Dr. Berkowitz paired decades of experience with the personal accounts of the other panelists.
Survivors, witnesses, and advocates comprised the group of guest speakers who, following their stories, answered questions from the audience. The event concluded with remarks from XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Command Sgt. Maj. Charles W. Albertson and, finally, Lt. Gen. LaCamera. "What we're doing with SHARP sets the foundation for everything that we're doing," said the Command Sgt. Major, "no matter what it is." Lt. Gen. LaCamera laid the impetus of response and prevention directly on the leaders under his command. "Mission first, Soldiers always," he said. "So take care of them."