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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Applying the "7 Truths" To Communicating Re: Sexual Harassment In The Military

The below was in response to a question posed to me on GovLoop, based on my blog "7 Truths Re: Communicating Controversy."

Before I say anything let me say that I am truly grateful to the military community for their service. I do not know what they go through. Their sacrifices, the sacrifices of their families. They see unimaginable horror. They give their lives and their limbs. I know that I am not them and am speaking from the outside.

The issue of sexual harassment of women, and men, in the military and in combat is one of the most difficult issues I can imagine communicating about because the very model of traditional militarism involves dominance as a model - physical, mental, etc.

Also, I think this issue could be extended to cover discrimination around gender more broadly, including gays and lesbians who serve.

All of that said - some thoughts. Again, as always all opinions my own and with the deepest respect.

#1 - "Stand Your Ground." Is there that 100% commitment to eliminating harassment in the first place? It has to exist in the culture at every level.

#2 - the fact is there will be people who disagree vehemently, as odd as it may sound to us. Because in every culture where wrong things happen there are those who see that as the norm. Even if they say they don't, it can be unspoken.

#3 - explain yourself early. I do think women and men should be warned about the risks of signing up. I think they should be told that it's a problem, we're working on it, there are resources available, but it's not perfect yet by any measure.

#4 - repeat the message often. It goes without saying that if leadership is in favor of change but drill sergeants aren't then what is the real message? Or when an incident occurs, how the victim is treated - if at any point there is inconsistency or inattention - then the message does not sink in.

#5 - make it personal - the unimaginable trauma that happens all too often, has happened to too many people. The human impact is devastating and it should be shared at all levels for the anti-harassment message to be effective.

#6 - overwhelm with information. It is critical to ensure that everyone not only understands that the military will not tolerate harassment and abuse, but knows what the resources are to deal with it. You can never give out too much information, you just have to make sure that it's the right information for the right audience at the right time.

#7 - engage many audiences - this is an issue from pre-recruitment to discharge, an issue for everyone in the military - it has to go mainstream. It must be discussed. The act of discussing it will change the culture, it will affect the power structure, it will affect our approach to military operations. And the key is that this is a conversation - not a one-way monologue. The purpose of that engagement is for all parties to walk away with a commitment that is not just renewed but that can result in implementable action on the ground.