‘A failure of command’ — How one soldier’s sexual harassment case forced a reckoning among leaders in the Army Reserve

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Military leaders have for many years made statements, held focus groups, organized fundraisers, and conducted surveys to get a better understanding of sexual assault and harassment within the ranks. They have deemed the problem unacceptable and vowed that it would be handled appropriately under their watch.

Yet a case unraveling within a two-star Army Reserve command in Illinois has put a spotlight on what many service members believe: What the military says it will do to help them when they report sexual assault or harassment, and what they actually experience, are two different stories.

Indeed, the 416th Theater Engineer Command, comprised of thousands of soldiers in 26 states, is currently under investigation by a top Army official over claims that leaders frequently mishandled sexual assault and harassment allegations. The investigation was first reported by the Associated Press.

The case, which began with one female soldier’s allegation of being sexually harassed by her commander and first sergeant, quickly spiraled and revealed apparent failures at higher levels, while laying bare a system that, as some soldiers put it, can only be described as “corrupt.”

Now, two U.S. senators are demanding answers from Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. And though that investigation remains ongoing, victims say they are still suffering.

“It goes nowhere,” said Spc. Sara Joachimstaler, one of the soldiers who spoke to Task & Purpose about her experience reporting sexual assault at the 416th. “So I see why people don’t ever report. It’s exhausting.”

This article is based on dozens of internal emails and official military documents, as well as interviews with those involved. Task & Purpose does not usually identify victims of sexual assault but is doing so here, in some cases, at their explicit request.

Citing ongoing investigations, Army officials declined to comment for this article.

'With authority comes great responsibility'

When Amy Braley Franck arrived at the 416th Theater Engineer Command in February 2019, one of the first things she did was introduce herself as the new Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention (SHARP) victim advocate.

She had just come from U.S. Army Cyber Command, where she had worked as a GS13 SHARP program manager — the civilian equivalent of a lieutenant colonel. Though her position at the 416th was below the one she had left, her husband was relocated to Illinois for work and she wanted to continue working in the SHARP program.

“I just like helping soldiers,” she told Task & Purpose of the role, which was to provide support and care to victims, keeping her on-call 24 hours a day.

Amy Braley Franck with soldiers at Fort Carson, 2019. 

Amy Braley Franck with soldiers at Fort Carson, 2019. 

It was during the same month that Braley Franck arrived that Spc. Sara Joachimstaler was helping a fellow specialist get fitted for a new uniform. That soldier, Spc. Mariana Pence, later wrote in a sworn statement that they both had gone into a staff sergeant’s office to take measurements when Capt. Andrew Johnson and 1st Sgt. Michael Pike walked in a few minutes later.

Capt. Johnson, commanding officer of the 738th Engineer Company, under the 416th, instructed two other soldiers to leave and close the door behind them, according to Spc. Joachimstaler. 1st. Sgt. Pike then asked what was going on.

“Ok, I want to see how you tape a female, [Spc. Joachimstaler],” 1st. Sgt. Pike said, according to Spc. Pence’s account, which alleged that both 1st. Sgt. Pike and Capt. Johnson laughed as measurements were taken, and made inappropriate jokes about her appearance.

Spc. Pence felt uncomfortable about the interaction and reported the incident later that day to 1st Lt. Anthony Perkins, executive officer, and Capt. Johnson's second-in-command.

Eventually, she decided to file an official report through the SHARP office, alleging sexual harassment against Capt. Johnson and 1st Sgt. Pike, because she believed that “nothing was going to happen” otherwise, she told Task & Purpose.

Capt. Johnson and 1st Sgt. Pike did not respond to requests for comment from Task & Purpose.

Pence "decided to make it an official complaint,” said Braley Franck. “I coordinated with the command, and they assigned the investigating officer, and investigated her complaint."

It was just the tip of the iceberg: Spc. Pence’s alleged harassment kicked off a chain of events that uncovered several other complaints, including an alleged rape that unit leaders had failed to properly address.

“The commanders want to have all of this authority,” Braley Franck said, summarizing the core of the problem she found over the course of the last year. “But with authority comes great responsibility. And they are not holding up their end of the bargain.”

Retaliation, immorality, and claims of a cover-up

In Spc. Pence’s SHARP complaint, she named one supporting witness, Spc. Joachimstaler, who later reported being retaliated against. Capt. Johnson and 1st Sgt. Pike knew “exactly the time” she was going to be interviewed about what she saw during the February incident, she wrote in her sworn statement. 

Spc. Joachimstaler filed a complaint with the inspector general alleging retaliation, though it remains unclear what came of it. She said in late June that she hasn’t heard “from anybody” about her Inspector General complaint “in months,” and that she has “no idea what’s going on.”

Spcs. Mariana Pence (left) and Sara Joachimstaler (right). 

Spcs. Mariana Pence (left) and Sara Joachimstaler (right). 

In her complaint, she mentioned the NCO creed, which vows fairness and impartiality when recommending rewards and punishment. “My command has not been fair, nor impartial towards me,” Spc. Joachimstaler said.

The retaliation came in several different forms, she said. Two days after being interviewed about Spc. Pence’s allegations of harassment, according to a sworn statement from Nov. 2019, Spc. Joachimstaler said a sergeant accused her of losing his rifle while at an exercise at Fort Campbell. She told him she hadn’t, but agreed to help him look for it anyway. Later that day, he approached her again about the missing weapon “with the use of profanity,” according to Spc. Joachimstaler, who then told him she didn’t “fucking care.”

Though she had disrespected a higher-ranking soldier, Lt. Perkins later recalled to Task & Purpose the same sergeant weeks earlier had told Spc. Joachimstaler that “she needed to get cum off her face.”

Still, Spc. Joachimstaler apologized to the sergeant the next day, her statement said, adding that the sergeant told her the issue was “squashed.” Yet a few hours later, she was brought into a tent with several other soldiers — including Capt. Johnson, 1st Sgt. Pike, her platoon leader, and platoon sergeant.

She was told she was being demoted from specialist to private first class, despite Army regulations not allowing for immediate, on-the-spot demotions. Soldiers can be demoted following legal proceedings, or through an Article 15, which allows commanders to administer nonjudicial punishment such as loss of pay or rank. Commanders can also hold administrative reduction boards, though soldiers are given written notification ahead of time.

A defense official told Task & Purpose a soldier cannot be demoted without the proper paperwork. 

But that's not what happened here, according to Spc. Joachimstaler.

"I was not given any documentation informing me of an Article 15," Spc. Joachimstaler told Task & Purpose. She also denied being notified of a reduction board.

1st Sgt. Pike noticed she was still wearing specialist rank days later, leading him to counsel Staff Sgt. Kyle Dyer, the company’s equal opportunity representative and training NCO, for taking “no corrective action” to fix Spc. Joachimstaler’s rank, and for telling her that he would speak to Capt. Johnson and 1st. Sgt. Pike on her behalf.

“SSG Dyer, you have neither the rank or the position to go directly against the directives of the Company Commander,” 1st. Sgt. Pike wrote in the counseling form provided to Task & Purpose. “Neither do you have the authority as an NCO to go against the directives of the Company First Sergeant.”

The day after the conversation with her commander, 1st Sgt. Pike pulled Spc. Joachimstaler aside and told her that there were “rumors” going around about her, according to her statement, and that she had a “big red target on [her] back.” The specialist later told Task & Purpose that 1st. Sgt. Pike also called her a whore “multiple times,” and told her “about a perception that I sleep around.”

During the conversation, according to Spc. Joachimstaler’s statement, 1st. Sgt. Pike also accused her of having a relationship with Lt. Perkins and being shown favoritism because of it, since he noticed Perkins would occasionally pull her out of her office. 

There was an explanation other than favoritism. As Spc. Joachimstaler explained, a non-commissioned officer in her office had sexually assaulted her, and she did “not feel comfortable being in the office alone with this individual.” For that reason, she said, Lt. Perkins would allow her to attend missions with other personnel outside of the office.

“Well, I know that Joachimstaler, I am the first sergeant. I know everything,” 1st Sgt. Pike told her, according to her statement. 

Perkins told Task & Purpose that he didn't know at the time that Joachimstaler had been assaulted because he didn't have specifics, but that he occasionally had Spc. Joachimstaler to attend missions outside of the office after consulting the company's SHARP and equal opportunity representatives, who advised Perkins that he should "keep the two away from one another" if possible.

Despite 1st Sgt. Pike apparently knowing the situation, he appeared to not take any action — despite being considered a so-called “mandatory reporter” of sexual assault under Army regulations. The company commander, Capt. Johnson, was made aware of Spc. Joachimstaler’s sexual assault in April, according to a sworn statement from Lt. Perkins.

“Upon notifying the commander, he told me that he would take care of it,” wrote Lt. Perkins. “About a week later, I reminded the commander that he had [done] nothing about the incident to date and that it was his responsibility to report such actions. My commander refused to initiate any movement on the complaint.”

Lt. Perkins added: “I explained to my commander that these actions weren’t acceptable and that he needed to report it. My commander later called me into the office and explained that I was to ‘back him up, no matter what or I would be removed.’”

In May 2019, Spc. Joachimstaler reported the retaliation to the 416th’s detailed Inspector General, then-Maj. John Paul Hill, as well as the sexual assault, mentioning that her commander and first sergeant were aware of it, but did not report it.

Spc. Joachimstaler also said that when she spoke to Hill on June 18, 2019, he told her, incorrectly, that her commander was not a mandatory reporter of sexual assault. An email on June 19 shows Spc. Joachimstaler correcting Hill, citing Army regulations that say commanders must report sexual assault.

When asked for further explanation of his statement, Lt. Perkins told Task & Purpose, “Everything I said in there was true.”

Additionally, Lt. Perkins described the 739th leadership as “immoral” and said he had personally witnessed Capt. Johnson and 1st. Sgt. Pike “covering up stuff,” lying, and making racist remarks. Perkins said he has contacted the inspector general multiple times with complaints about the 739th leadership and faced continued retaliation for speaking out.

And a Jan. 2020 memo, signed by Lt. Perkins and three other full-time staff members at the 739th, claimed that staff “has had to deal with watching the CO and 1SG repeatedly attack 1LT Perkins,” adding that he was “constantly” targeted.

“The lack of respect the CO and 1SG have shown for the Army’s SHARP and its policies has been unfathomable,” the memo says. “Their actions have made the working environment impossible to work in.”

Neither Capt. Johnson nor 1st Sgt. Pike is still with the 739th. Both left the unit by Feb. 2020, according to Lt. Perkins.

Though it remains unclear why unit leaders apparently declined to report Spc. Joachimstaler's sexual assault, researcher Emma Moore told Task & Purpose that sexual assault and harassment are often viewed as "an annoyance, or something to move past" in the military, rather than "something that inherently impacts unit cohesion."

"As a society, we often put the burden on the survivor or on other people to 'figure it out,'" said Moore, a military and veterans research associate at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a Washington think tank. "It's rather depressing to see that attitude of, 'It's not my problem and I'd rather it not be my problem,' than aggressively addressing and supporting it." 

Spc. Joachimstaler said she believes the problems she saw in the 739th extend to the rest of the 416th. In her opinion, what happened to her is a prime example of how the effects of bad leadership can contaminate an entire unit.

“You can see that one person covers something up, and then three more people get involved, and before you know it, it’s all the way up to the highest person possible,” she told Task & Purpose.

“And then the whole system is corrupt.”

'I don’t want to be at your funeral and tell your parents that I knew that this was happening'

Ironically, one of the first actions taken by Maj. Hill, the 416th's inspector general, went against Army policy. 

In May, he sent a memo to Braley Franck, instructing her to investigate allegations that the chain of command “failed to properly respond to allegations of sexual assault” and did not “provide for the safety and wellbeing” of Spc. Joachimstaler when she reported.

Braley Franck was confused. Victim advocates like her work on behalf of sexual assault victims and help them through the reporting process; they don’t investigate claims of abuse, or how commands handle allegations.

“I’m like, ‘Maj. Hill, sexual assault personnel do not conduct investigations,’” Braley Franck explained. “‘That’s the IG’s lane. What are you talking about?’ … I’m thinking, these people have lost their minds.”

A few days later, Braley Franck forwarded Hill’s referral to Maj. Gen. Miyako Schanley, the commander of the 416th TEC. She was told that a soldier had reported a sexual assault but saw little action from her chain of command.

“Acknowledged,” Schanley wrote in response, according to a copy of the email provided to Task & Purpose. “As more details emerge, I would also appreciate your recommendations on what steps we should take (such as refresher training for the unit, perhaps) to prevent this (the inadequate leadership response) from happening again.”

Maj. Gen. Miyako Schanley.

Maj. Gen. Miyako Schanley.

It’s unclear if any refresher training was ever conducted. Neither Maj. Hill nor Maj. Gen. Schanley responded to requests for comment.

Spc. Joachimstaler then reported her case through Braley Franck and the SHARP office, which finally got it in front of investigators with Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID). Yet the situation only got worse.

After Spc. Joachimstaler reported her assault through the SHARP office, Braley Franck called Capt. Johnson, asking why he failed to report the assault up to CID after being informed by Lt. Perkins. Capt. Johnson told her that he didn’t “have to do anything about it,” she recalled.

“What do you mean you don’t have to do anything about it?” Braley Franck recalled asking Capt. Johnson. “He’s like, ‘Well, I have this memo from Capt. Ruhnke right here, stating that when a third-party report of a sexual assault came to him, he just did his own internal investigation and deemed that he didn’t have to refer it to CID, and just closed it.’”

The memo, written in 2018 by Capt. Joseph Ruhnke, a previous commander of the 739th, detailed two instances of alleged sexual assault he was informed of that occurred in 2017 and 2018 — months before Spc. Pence and Spc. Joachimstaler’s harassment began — against then-Pvt. Miranda Jones (identified here by a pseudonym), who was 17 years old at the time.

According to the memo, Spc. Pence reported to Capt. Ruhnke that Pvt. Jones had been sexually assaulted twice by a male specialist in the company, first in September 2017, and again in April 2018. Pvt. Jones did not report the assaults and declined to file a complaint against her alleged assailant, despite suffering a broken collarbone in the first assault, and a broken arm in the second, according to a person familiar who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to freely discuss sensitive details.

Capt. Ruhnke wrote that he believed the first “engagement” happened during a drill weekend in the women’s bathroom at the reserve center. Pvt. Jones told Spc. Pence that “she had sex with another member” of her platoon, Ruhnke wrote, adding that a couple of weeks after the assault he was told by a staff sergeant that there was “a potential SHARP violation in the unit,” apparently in reference to Pvt. Jones, though Capt. Ruhnke wasn’t aware of those details at the time.

Around a month later, according to the Capt. Ruhnke memo, Pvt. Jones requested to go on active duty since she “was not comfortable with someone in the unit." She didn’t specify why, but Capt. Ruhnke said in the memo that he “put two and two together” and figured she was the soldier the staff sergeant had been referring to. Without knowing the full details, Capt. Ruhnke encouraged Pvt. Jones to file a report or tell him who the alleged offender was, but she declined. According to his memo, the situation didn’t come back up until April 2018 when Spc. Pence came into his office and told him details of the first assault, and that a second assault had occurred.

According to Capt. Ruhnke, Pvt. Jones “refused to substantiate” what Spc. Pence told him, and “swore ... that both encounters were consensual.”

He closed out the memo by mentioning that the alleged offender’s service obligation was ending within months, and that “his removal from the unit should improve trust and restore a better sense of personal safety” for Pvt. Jones. He also said he was preparing a military protective order and would “complete counseling forms” for both Pvt. Jones and the alleged offender.

But Capt. Ruhnke’s handling of the allegations goes against Army regulations.

According to the Commander’s Legal Handbook, released in 2019 by the Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, commanders have “very little discretion in what you do when you hear about a sexual assault.

“If you learn about an allegation of sexual assault, you must report that allegation to CID immediately,” the handbook reads. “DO NOT conduct any internal command directed investigation into the sexual assault.”

The Army's SHARP guidebook also mandates that "an official investigation will be initiated" if a third party reports an assault to the chain of command.

During the first attack, Spc. Pence said the alleged offender had raped Pvt. Jones and broke her collarbone. Pvt. Jones called her afterward in tears, according to Pence, who encouraged Jones to go to the hospital. She refused.

“I told her I would meet her at the hospital, I would go through everything with her,” Spc. Pence said. “She said ‘No, I don’t want to deal with it. I just want it to be done, I don’t want to deal with this ever again.’”

As Moore from CNAS explained, sexual assault survivors understandably "have a difficult time ... advocating for themselves, because the situation is such a betrayal and such a violation." 

Braley Franck said she doesn’t understand how Capt. Ruhnke could possibly have believed the assault was “consensual.”

“The young lady in the [Capt. Ruenke memo], she was raped in the military building, and he broke her collarbone during the assault,” said Braley Franck.

“That company commander saw that … and believed that was consensual? Are you kidding me?”

Months later, a CID report stated that witnesses “revealed [Pvt. Jones] told multiple people if she was asked about any incident involving her and [the offender], she would tell them the incidents were consensual.” That’s unsurprising to Braley Franck, who said that in her experience, younger victims especially find it “easier to say I consented” than it is to “deal with all of the additional stressors that come with the sexual assault being known.”

During the second assault in April 2018, the same specialist allegedly went to Pvt. Jones’ place of work, slammed her head into her car windshield, and broke her arm. Spc. Pence said that after the second assault, she again implored her to get help.

“I don’t want to be at your funeral and tell your parents that I knew that this was happening and I didn’t stop it,” Spc. Pence remembered telling Pvt. Jones, who “begged” her not to say anything.

But at work a couple of days later, Spc. Pence broke down and told Capt. Ruhnke what she knew, leading to the writing of the memo.

In the few months that followed, up until his service obligation finished, Spc. Joachimstaler said that Pvt. Jones was forced to continue seeing her assailant, and in some instances even stood next to him in formation.

“I remember the nauseated, fearful look on her face,” Spc. Joachimstaler added. “Every time he stood next to her, her face went pale.”

Soldiers from the 416th Theater Engineer Command walk toward the range at the Joliet Army Training Area, in Elwood, Ill. in 2015.

Soldiers from the 416th Theater Engineer Command walk toward the range at the Joliet Army Training Area, in Elwood, Ill. in 2015.

'It was like a confirmation that this is a command issue'

After reading Capt. Ruhnke’s memo, Braley Franck was horrified. It was like finding “a piece of the puzzle,” she told Task & Purpose. 

On June 28, 2019, Braley Franck emailed Capt. Johnson to say she was “very confused.”

“It appears from the [Memorandum For Record] that a 3rd party report of a sexual assault and physical abuse within a military facility involving 2 soldiers was reported by several soldiers and to the author of the MFR. The regulatory guidance is to call USACID even if it is a 3rd party report.”

Braley Franck informed Capt. Johnson that he now had to not only report the assault to CID but also report Capt. Ruhnke’s failure to handle the case correctly.

“When I saw [the memo] I thought, ‘No wonder,’” Braley Franck told Task & Purpose. “For me, working in so many different commands, it was like a confirmation that this is a command issue. That when you have commanders that are not doing the right thing, the [SHARP] program cannot work well.”

Still, retired Maj. Gen. John Altenburg, former deputy judge advocate general of the Army, told Task & Purpose that the case also reflects the nuance of a policy that takes away commanders’ discretion when they’re made aware of sexual assault: Requiring a commander to immediately report can help hold alleged offenders responsible and make it harder for commanders to potentially cover up an assault, despite sometimes going against a victim’s wishes.

“General officers have been relieved based on that,” said Altenburg. “It has had really severe consequences on people who have not complied with the policy.”

CID spent months looking into the Pvt. Jones assaults, though investigators didn't appear to uncover much. By the time CID began, the alleged offender, who claimed that "everything" between him and Pvt. Jones was consensual, had already separated from the Army. Pvt. Jones told investigators she did not want to participate.

Though Army investigators still have the authority to investigate, CID spokesman Chris Graves said, "lack of a victim's participation creates challenges to the investigative process which could impact final adjudication of the reported crime.”

'The program is broken'

Army Reserve leaders need to know about this, Braley Franck thought. The Capt. Ruhnke memo, which had swept aside past sexual assault allegations, was still being used as a broom. And victims were continuing to be harmed by the Army's lack of action.

In November, she sent an email to Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, the top leader of the Army Reserve, outlining the problems with the 416th’s handling of sexual assault allegations and retaliation. She also claimed that other sexual assault response personnel at the 416th were not following Army guidelines.

“The program is broken, not even resembling what the laws and regulations set forth,” she wrote Luckey, describing the job as the worst experience of her career. The next day, Braley Franck received a memo informing her that she was being suspended.

According to the memo, signed by Col. Gregory Toth, head of personnel at the 416th TEC, Braley Franck was suspended amid an investigation "for possibly violating the D-SACCP [DoD Sexual Assault Advocate Certification Program] code of professional ethics.” 

Col. Toth did not specify which of the more than two dozen ethical rules Braley Franck had apparently violated. "This suspension will remain in effect until sufficient facts are gathered to determine whether you will be reinstated or permanently removed from the position of significant trust," he wrote.

Braley Franck believes the suspension was a direct result of her calling out the issues to Luckey, and has filed an IG complaint alleging retaliation. Though a spokesperson for Luckey declined to comment for this article, a June 8th email from Luckey provided to Task & Purpose shows him telling Braley Franck that they are “on the same team,” and that he has “consistently directed that you be protected from any actions or behavior that could be perceived as reprisal since first learning of your concerns.”

Luckey retired from the Army Reserve on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois wrote in January to Army senior leaders, demanding an investigation into the 416th’s leadership over its handling of sexual assault cases after seeing the original AP story.

“We urge you to pursue a comprehensive review of the troubling charges brought to light by this article and provide clarity on any ongoing Army investigation into handling of sexual assault claims by the 416th,” the lawmakers wrote to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, citing the Associated Press article from earlier that month.

McCarthy responded in a letter addressed to only Durbin in February, telling him that the Army had “appointed a General Officer to conduct an investigation” into the matters raised by the AP, “in accordance with Army Regulation 15-6.”

Except the appointment came with its own problems.

The Army appointed a one-star general, Brig. Gen. Susan Henderson, despite the service requiring an investigating officer to be ranked above those being investigated — a two-star in this case.

Henderson led the investigation for more than a month. During that time, Braley Franck continued alerting Army leaders to the details of the cases she saw at the 416th, sending emails to Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, and Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, head of the U.S. Army Reserve.

Spokespeople for McConville and Luckey both declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. But on March 27 of this year, Army Brig. Gen. Patrick Huston, one of the Army's top lawyers, responded to Braley Franck, telling her that McConville was “concerned about the allegations you have raised, and is committed to ensuring the investigation is completed in a timely, thorough, and complete manner.”

Brig. Gen. Henderson was replaced on March 30th by Lt. Gen. Jason Evans, the Army deputy chief of staff overseeing installations. Then on June 16, the Army suspended Maj. Gen. Schanley from her duties, which officials called a “common practice during ongoing investigations.” 

The Army also said that “a number of potentially adverse findings have been referred to the affected officers, who will be entitled to no-cost legal representation to assist in drafting responses.”

A statement from both Durbin and Duckworth on June 17 said that they are “encouraged” that the Army is investigating their concerns with the 416th.

“It is critical that such complaints are handled appropriately,” the joint statement said. “And we look forward to working with the Army as it concludes this investigation and takes action to help ensure such misconduct doesn’t happen again.”

'They’re just running me in circles'

Today, more than a year after Spc. Pence’s harassment case was opened, it’s unclear where hers or other cases stand. Spc. Joachimstaler said that as far as she knows, CID is still investigating and that her case is constantly being “passed on to a different investigator,” making her repeat her story again and again.

“They’re just running me in circles,” she said. “Wanting me to give up, like I’m just going to run out of breath. And a lot of people do … People don’t want to fight it anymore, people don’t want to let it ruin their life. And it will.”

Days after Maj. Gen. Schanley was suspended, Spc. Pence said she was notified that an official investigation had been opened into her original harassment complaint.

A graph depicting the trend in Unrestricted and Restricted Reporting of sexual assault from FY10 to FY19. 

A graph depicting the trend in Unrestricted and Restricted Reporting of sexual assault from FY10 to FY19. 

The issue of sexual assault has frustrated the military for years. According to the Pentagon’s latest annual report, released in April, an estimated 3.1% of women in the Army Reserve reported being sexually assaulted in 2019. That number has seen no statistical change since 2017.

Meanwhile, a May 2019 survey on gender relations in the Reserve component said that service members’ trust in the military “significantly declined” in 2019; in particular, many doubted their privacy would be protected if they reported a sexual assault, or, that they would not be treated with respect.

"Younger and more junior in paygrade service members continue to face a heightened risk of experiencing sexual assault," the report said. It can also lead to significant long-term consequences: Military sexual assault is more likely to result in post-traumatic stress disorder than going into combat, according to a Nov. 2019 Pentagon Inspector General report.

The military as a whole saw a 3% increase in reports of sexual assault last year, continuing a steady rise since at least 2012. While the rate of sexual assault reporting by service members quadrupled between 2006 and 2018, it “remains underreported” in both the civilian and military worlds, according to the Pentagon.

The military also saw a 10% increase in reports of sexual harassment last year, according to Pentagon statistics, leading the Sexual Assault Accountability and Investigation Task Force to propose that sexual harassment be viewed “as a standalone military crime.”

According to Pentagon researchers, the “central theme” that emerged from dozens of focus groups on gender relations was that Army leaders needed to do more to support victims, and take seriously their sexual assault and harassment training. Engaged leaders “are absolutely critical to mitigating sexual harassment, sexual assault” in the ranks, one Army SHARP leader said in their report.

Yet many service members are seeing the opposite. And Braley Franck believes the core of the problem within the 416th’s SHARP program lies with command failure.

“The sexual assault program is a voluntary program,” she explained. “I always ask [victims], ‘Do you want to report this?’”

But commanders don’t have that choice, she said. They’re required to report assault and are responsible for looking out for the reporting service member’s wellbeing.

“It’s a force protection issue,” Braley Franck said. “And they are failing.”