Army's Sexual Assault Prevention Program Has Lost Soldiers' Trust, McCarthy Says

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Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy speaks at a COVID-19 briefing.
Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy speaks at a COVID-19 briefing, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., April 30, 2020. (DoD/Lisa Ferdinando)

An independent review of Fort Hood, Texas has convinced Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy that soldiers do not have trust in the Army's Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention program.

McCarthy is the second Army senior leader this week to express concern about the effectiveness of the SHARP program as the Army struggles to heal itself in the aftermath of the murder of Fort Hood soldier Spc. Vanessa Guillen. Under Secretary of the Army James McPherson told Military.com exclusively Monday that a five-member, civilian Fort Hood Independent Review Committee recommended that the Army take a "hard look" at the SHARP program as the result of its two-week fact-finding mission at the Texas post in late summer.

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McCarthy did not mention the Guillen murder case, but said he was "deeply saddened and concerned by the recent news reports of how sexual assault and sexual harassment have plagued our force and brought harm to our soldiers."

"Army senior leaders are in receipt of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee's report and are reviewing its findings and recommendations," McCarthy said. "My preliminary review of the report, recent cases, and recent media coverage, have hardened my belief that the Army's SHARP program hasn't achieved its mandate to eliminate sexual assaults and sexual harassment by creating a climate that respects the dignity of every member of the Army family."

Guillen, a 20-year-old 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier, went missing in April, but her remains were not discovered until July. She was allegedly murdered and dismembered by a fellow soldier, Spc. Aaron Robinson, shortly after going missing from Fort Hood. Robinson took his own life that month when police approached him. Cecily Aguilar, a 22-year-old civilian from Killeen, has been arrested and charged with allegedly helping Robinson dispose of Guillen's body.

Guillen's family have accused Robinson of sexually harassing Guillen, but Fort Hood and Army Criminal Investigation Command officials say they have found no credible evidence that she was the victim of sexual harassment.

McPherson said the Fort Hood report's "theme that came through ... was trust, and we lost the trust of the soldiers and some of the civilians at Fort Hood."

McCarthy said that "this topic has captivated the attention of America and our Army leaders and it is abundantly clear -- we must do better."

"Leaders, regardless of rank, are accountable for what happens in their units and must have the courage to speak up and intervene when they recognize actions that bring harm to our soldiers and to the integrity of our institution. If we do not have the trust of America -- nothing else matters."

The Fort Hood committee's report is roughly 140 pages and features about 70 recommendations, some of which deal with Fort Hood, but others will affect the entire Army, McPherson told Military.com.

McCarthy said the Army plans to release the finding of the report to the public on Dec. 8 "with an action plan to address the recommendations."

"It is clear we have significant work to do to regain our soldiers' trust in our Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program," McCarthy said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

Related: Army Must Take 'Hard Look' at Sexual Assault Prevention Program, Fort Hood Review Finds

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