Every bleacher inside a large tent held dozens of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadets watching a man flirt with a timid woman. After handing her a drugged drink, he put his arm around her and spouted sexual innuendoes as he slowly moved his hand up her leg. Despite most of the Cadets groaning uncomfortably or shouting “stop,” the man didn’t let up until the woman wriggled from his grasp and walked away.
The scene was one of several two actors played out as a part of Sex Signals, a training exercise Cadets must attend to learn about the seriousness of sexual assault and what they can do to prevent or stop it.
According to the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention website, sexual assault is the “most underreported crime in our society and in the military.” Just as resources are available for civilians who are victims of sexual assault or harassment as well as for people who want to educate themselves on how to help, the Army provides similar assistance and education.
As one of the last events of the Leader Development and Assessment Course at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Cadets must attend a training exercise called Sex Signals. In an improvisational style that includes vocabulary and humor that Cadets can relate to, one male and one female actor portray scenes that force the audience to consider gender stereotypes, sexual assault and what to do as a bystander or a potential victim.
The actors come from a company that travels domestically and internationally to all military branches to educate men and women about the severity of sexual assault and the importance of understanding the myth of mandatory gender roles.
Cadet Jeremy Duty, Bravo Co., 11th Regiment, is prior service and said he was pleased with how up-front the show was, right down to the language and terms the actors used. Words such as “nail,” “pound” and “hammer” prompted the female actor to suggest to the male that the words indicate having sex in a hardware store rather than a pleasurable, consensual experience.
“They said things everybody thinks,” said the Utah Valley University political science student from Montrose, Colo. “We’re Soldiers…we think and say those things just like everyone else.”
Duty said the way the actors presented the information emphasized the enormity of the responsibility he and his fellow Cadets will have as commissioned officers.
“We don’t have to be politically correct and skirt around an issue like this,” said Duty.
Cadet Cristina Trecate, Bravo Co., 11th Regiment, a communications and informatics major at Wall, N.J., and a student at Rutgers University, said the presentation relaxed her about the important issues regarding sex. The information is crucial to have so she will know what to do with Soldiers she will lead in the future.
“[I’m] not allowed to have [a close] friendship with [my] Soldiers…but I’m still responsible for them, and I can’t let something like that happen to them,” said Trecate.
Cadre also praised the brief for its relatable nature to Cadets. Lt. Col. Kelley Donham, professor of military science at California State University, Fullerton, said Sex Signals showed Cadets how to be a positive force for change in the Army if they encounter sexually inappropriate situations.
“If you don’t have the right direction in situations like [the ones portrayed in the show]…it can spread negatively,” said Donham.
The purpose of briefs like Sex Signals is to prevent further sexual assault and harassment in the military. While it remains a problem, Duty said the military needs to keep hearing the briefs.
“It’s a huge problem, and we need huge answers for it,” said Duty.
Story by Monica Spees.