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Fusion Directorates open their doors in time for Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month

WASHINGTON – In October of 2021, the People First Task Force launched the Fusion Directorate pilot program as part of the planned redesign of its Sexual Harassment/Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Program. Forts Bragg, Irwin, Riley, and Sill, Schofield Barracks, and Aberdeen Proving Ground are all participating in this one-year pilot of a new concept designed to care for, protect and empower victims. After six months of preparation, the doors are officially opening at six Fusion Directorates across the Army.

Throughout the month of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, pilot locations are holding opening ceremonies to mark the occasion. The Fusion Directorates will offer an additional mechanism to report sexual harassment and sexual assault and will provide centrally coordinated medical, investigative, legal and support services independent of a victim’s immediate command.

The Fusion Directorate is a victim-centered model aimed at addressing the issues and recommendations identified by the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee and echoed by the Department of Defense Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military. Organizational changes – including an empowered director and additional staffing in conjunction with co-location of services as practicable – and new fusion practices and procedures aim to increase accountability, transparency and efficiency throughout the cycle of care for victims of both sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“Pilot locations have made significant changes to their programs over the past six months to prepare for this pilot – not just visible changes to what their organizations look like, but adaptations in mindset,” explained Col. Erica Cameron, the People First Task Force officer directing the pilot. “The idea of fusion is starting to spread beyond the physical facility of the Fusion Directorate as military and civilian leaders, other installation support providers, and community organizations are coming together in new ways to improve support to victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault. More importantly, they are also discussing ways to prevent these types of inappropriate and harmful behaviors.”

The Army’s new approach to fusion was the key focus of a recent educational workshop hosted by the Army’s SHARP Academy at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the school where Army professional victim advocates are trained. Leaders from each pilot location participated in an eight-day course in March 2022 designed to aid their transformation into Fusion directors and deputy directors and enhance their skills at leading and managing an organization of increased size and responsibility. Additionally, representatives from the People First Task Force have conducted routine assistance visits and hosted open-dialogue sessions between pilots to facilitate the transition and sharing of challenges and best practices.

With leaders primed, conditions set and doors opened in April, the six Fusion Directorates are embarking upon a one-year test of this new approach to victim-centered care. Success of the pilot will be assessed using reporting data and survey tools to measure progress toward addressing key issue areas highlighted by the FHIRC and IRC reports, to include accessibility of services, transparency of the process, and speed of outcomes.

“Initial feedback captured as the pilots have stood up is generally positive,” Cameron said after visiting pilot locations in conjunction with their openings. “Victim advocates are reporting that co-location of response services has improved the experience of victims by minimizing unnecessary movement while also enhancing their ability to coordinate care and support.”

Later this summer the Army Reserve will pilot a virtual Fusion Directorate under the 99th Readiness Division to test an alternative method of providing coordinated services virtually to units and personnel spread across a geographically dispersed area. The lessons learned from this virtual pilot may influence victim-support methods under consideration and development by the Army National Guard and even apply to active Army units that are dispersed or isolated.

The pilot program and assessment of the performance of the Fusion Directorates will run for one year. Observations, lessons learned and best practices will be presented to Army senior leaders on a quarterly basis to allow for in-stride adaptations or implementation decisions and support longer-term planning on the future structure and function of the Army’s SHARP program.

“Thanks to a tremendous amount of hard work from the dedicated Soldiers and civilians at these Fusion Directorates, we will be able to provide responses in a more efficient way to victims and survivors of assault,” said Sgt. Maj. Julie Guerra, a Tri-Chair of the People First Task Force. “This will allow options for command teams to leverage all the resources needed for care and support in one location without losing their internal SHARP assets.”

Additional Resources:

Additional resources, including the full FHIRC report, are available at:

https://www.army.mil/peoplefirst/

https://www.army.mil/forthoodreview

https://www.armyresilience.army.mil/sharp

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