Alaska Coast Guard members train to provide support for victims of sexual assault

Capt. Anthony Vogt, chief of staff, Coast Guard 17th District, addresses Coast Guard men and women attending a victim advocate training course in Juneau, Alaska, Sept. 13, 2013. During his remarks, Vogt highlighted the important role they will play in looking out for their shipmates while helping the Coast Guard respond to and prevent sexual assaults. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow)

Capt. Anthony Vogt, chief of staff, Coast Guard 17th District, addresses Coast Guard men and women attending a victim advocate training course in Juneau, Alaska, Sept. 13, 2013. During his remarks, Vogt highlighted the important role they will play in looking out for their shipmates while helping the Coast Guard respond to and prevent sexual assaults. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow)

By PA1 Shawn Eggert

The problems of sexual assault and harassment are ones that, unfortunately, affect too many military service members and the Coast Guard is no exception.  After such a traumatic and unsettling event, victims are often in need of support and that’s where Coast Guard victim advocates come in.

“Sexual assault, hazing, harassment and discrimination undermine morale, degrade readiness and damage mission performance,” Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp wrote in an address to Coast Guard members Jan. 12.  “These and similar acts of misconduct break our obligation to one another.”

With these words in mind, 26 Coast Guard personnel from throughout the 17th District attended victim advocate training in Juneau, Alaska, Sept. 10-12 in order to learn how they might provide vital support to shipmates in need. 

“Victim advocates are trained to identify cases of sexual assault and to help victims through the often difficult steps of reporting incidents,” said John Eaton, a sexual assault response coordinator at Coast Guard Base Kodiak.  “Their primary roles are to provide victims with information and support, to be a companion for victims as they go through the medical, investigatory and legal processes and to ensure victim safety.”

In addition to these roles, victim advocates contribute to the important task of preventing sexual assault. 

“Victim advocates help prevent sexual assaults by being an information resource for their units,” said Clint Watanabe, a sexual assault response coordinator for the 17th District.  “They also help SARCs by providing resource information, sexual assault prevention and bystander training, and helping to build a climate directed towards eliminating sexual assaults, sexual harassment, hazing, and discrimination.

According to the Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention Program, there were 70 reported sexual assaults throughout the Coast Guard in fiscal year 2009, this number increased to 156 by the end of fiscal year 2012.

Even though there were more sexual assaults reported, Eaton believes training and outreach efforts are working.

John Eaton, a Coast Guard sexual assault prevention coordinator, provides victim advocate training to Coast Guard men and women at the 17th District Headquarters in Juneau, Alaska, Sept. 12, 2013. Victim advocates are part of the Coast Guard's sexual assault and prevention response network and are trained to provide emotional support to victims of sexual assault during interviews, medical procedures and legal proceedings. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow)

John Eaton, a Coast Guard sexual assault prevention coordinator, provides victim advocate training to Coast Guard men and women at the 17th District Headquarters in Juneau, Alaska, Sept. 12, 2013. Victim advocates are part of the Coast Guard’s sexual assault and prevention response network and are trained to provide emotional support to victims of sexual assault during interviews, medical procedures and legal proceedings. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow)

“Statistically, only about 20 percent of victims of sexual assault actually report the incidents,” said Eaton.  “These increases in the amount of reported cases could be an indication that confidence in our ability to respond and provide care is growing, and that confidence is essential to seeing victims get the help they need and ensuring future incidents are prevented from occurring.”

Sexual assault is a crime and its very nature is contrary to the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect, and devotion to duty.  Coast Guard leaders continue to increase prevention and education efforts, and are committed to eliminating sexual assault in the service. 

“The Coast Guard is a small service and each of us has a role to play in changing our culture,” said Eaton.  “Victim advocates provide help to victims who come forward and are an important tool in our effort to end sexual assault within our ranks.  The commandant has made it clear; sexual assault, sexual harassment, hazing and discrimination have no place in our service.”

Since 2008 the Coast Guard has trained nearly 800 uniformed Victim Advocates and has 19 fully trained Sexual Assault Response Coordinators who ensure appropriate care is coordinated and provided to victims of sexual assault and tracks services provided to a victim from the initial report through final disposition and resolution.

For more information about the Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, please visit: www.uscg.mil/SAPR

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