The only way victims may overcome the horrors of rape and sex trafficking is to accept Jesus Christ as their savior and king.
That is what soldiers and civilian employees of the Army's Redstone Arsenal were told by guest speaker Tajuan McCarty on April 27 at a command-hosted event in observance of Sexual Harassment/Awareness Response and Prevention (SHARP) Month, according to one of those in attendance.
The civilian employee said McCarty told the roughly 300 people who attended the SHARP event that "the only way to truly overcome the horrors of rape and sex trafficking is to have Jesus as your 'King."
"They sent out an email stating they were going to have a special guest speaking about her experience as a sex-trafficking victim. It didn't say anything about Christian beliefs" being discussed, the attendee told Military.com on Thursday.
McCarty is director of The Wellhouse in Birmingham, Alabama, often described as "a Christian home" for women rescued from the sex industry. McCarty, who has told her story numerous times in various forums, from Good Housekeeping magazine to the Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club," related her story of running away from home as a teenager and ending up in a world of drugs and prostitution, traded from one pimp to another for years.
An Army.mil story published five days before McCarty's presentation described her background and noted that she had become a Christian after escaping her life on the streets.
Military.com reached out to McCarty for comment but she did not respond.
The Redstone employee, who spoke to Military.com on condition he not be identified out of fear of retaliation, confirmed he has filed a complaint with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a civil rights group that opposes the inclusion of religion into official and mandatory Army programs.
Mikey Weinstein, founder and president of the MRFF, said his group has been contacted by 26 Redstone personnel since the April 27 event, most of them Christian but critical of the forum being used to tout a particular religion.
"We've tried to reach out through informal means to talk with [the command]," Weinstein said on Friday. "These people want an apology and to make sure this situation is corrected." He said his organization wants the Army to conduct an in-depth investigation and punish the people responsible for turning what should have been a secular event into an opportunity to witness for Jesus.
"Without [disciplinary action] you don't get any change," Weinstein said.
The command defended the presentation in a statement released late Friday afternoon, stating the event was one of many held as part of SHARP month.
"While the event was open to everyone and may satisfy one's annual SHARP training requirement, it was not mandatory or required for personnel," the statement said. "The event offered the personal perspective of a human trafficking survivor and those views do not represent the views of Redstone Arsenal."
Weinstein called the command's statement ludicrous, adding that from the perspective of MRFF's clients at Redstone the event was "all part of the mandatory SHARP presentation."
He also said the command's statement does not explain the chaplain starting the event with a sectarian prayer, specifically "in Jesus' name," he said.
The Army holds Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) programs every year to brief troops and civilian employees on the problem and what policies and programs the Army has to deal with incidents.
The Redstone programs are held multiple times over the course of several weeks to ensure everyone has time to attend. In recent years at Redstone, the source told Military.com, there have been two parts to the annual SHARP events.
The first part he attended was standard fare, he said, and included a briefing on sexual assault programs, policies and emergency information, including websites and hotlines.
The second part, held at the Bob Jones Auditorium within the base Sparkman Center, was different from previous SHARP events, he said. It began with a chaplain offering a prayer "in Jesus' name."
The Redstone employee said he does not doubt McCarty's story or sincerity, and does not believe she intended to offend anyone who turned out to the event. But he said telling a roomful of strangers who are likely from different faith groups or of no faith that they need Jesus to survive is offensive.
The employee described himself as a former Christian, stating in his letter to the MRFF that he "personally finds the Christian god, as described in the biblical texts, to be an abhorrent character unworthy of personal worship." He said he respects others' rights to practice their faith, but not at his expense.
He was a victim of sexual abuse at age 6 and has a close friend who was raped by the son of a Christian pastor when she was 15. No one reported the rape to police, and in the end it was the rapist's father who counseled son and victim, including telling the girl she was partly to blame for not calling out for help.
But he told Military.com he would have had the same reaction to McCarty's talk even if he had not been assaulted himself or knew someone close to him who was raped by a pastor's son.
"If an atheist got up and said things offensive to religion I would have taken offense to that, too. These things do not belong in a work environment, with people telling you what to believe," he said.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at Bryant.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BryantJordan.