IN THE NEWS
More than 500 people turned out for a 5 kilometer run on the morning of April 2. The run kicked off a series of events to promote awareness and prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault. (U.S. Army Africa photos by Sgt. Lance Pounds)
By Sgt. Lance Pounds, U.S. Army Africa Public Affairs
VICENZA, Italy – When she was in college, Michelle Demarais, U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention victim advocate, knew a person who had been sexually assaulted. Demarais witnessed the struggles that person went through to seek help, from the extremely difficult reporting process to the disbelief authorities had for the alleged assault. Later at a sexual assault seminar, Demarais had that ‘ah-ha moment’ where she realized the need for a SHARP program.
“I felt I needed to do something,” said Demarais. She added she felt that same need to do something when she organized a 5-kilometer race for SHARP awareness, held April 2 at Caserma Ederle.
Demarais said on the day of the race she was shocked by the overwhelming support of the community. The race brought together more than 500 participants, which was more than double the expected participation.
“We wanted to draw attention to the idea that sexual assault exists in our military and on our installation, and it’s going to take our whole community to make a change,” said Demarais a native of Redding, Calif.
She added the community really came together. Collaboration among local organizations and overwhelming participation showed her the community as a whole is working together towards the same goal.
The event was part of a larger plan to raise awareness throughout the Vicenza military community.
“The race was the first in a series of events meant to set the pace for actively engaging the Vicenza military community throughout the month of April,” said Demarais, who has spent the last 10 years working for organizations specializing in the awareness and prevention of sexual assault.
In a presidential proclamation by President Barack Obama, April is committed to awareness and prevention of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
“As Americans, we each have the power to shape our country's course and contribute to the extraordinary task of perfecting our Union,” said Obama. “This month, we are once again reminded that we can change our culture for the better by standing together against the quiet tolerance of sexual assault and refusing to accept the unacceptable.”
According to Demarais, overall participants exceeded expectations, which showed the community’s willingness to support to the initiative.