Significant Work Life programs spotlighted in April

By PA3 Lauren Dean

The month of April is Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month, as well as the Month of the Military Child. Members of Work Life in Kodiak stand ready to serve and assist Coast Guardsmen throughout the state.

One of those members is Angie Erickson, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator. With an accumulated 30 years of military service, she has spent her life helping others.

 

Members of Coast Guard Base Kodiak participate in an all-hands bowling event held at Tsunami Lanes Bowling Alley on Base Kodiak, Alaska, April 4, 2019. April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention month, and this event was meant to bring awareness to the issue as well as to encourage victims to reach out to the resources the Coast Guard provides. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Dean.

Having served as a military spouse as well as in both the U.S. Army and Air Force, Erickson feels that her time spent in both branches as a journalist and a chaplain have afforded her the skills required to take on a new challenge, this time in civilian attire, working for the U.S. Coast Guard.

As the Sexual Assault Prevention, Response & Recovery SARC for all of Alaska, Erickson has her hands full to say the least. But, she’s fully committed in her mission to ensure our members are heard when sexual harassment and assault issues arise.

“My job is to make sure that your part matters, and that you can do your part,”said Erickson. “If you are being sexually harassed, you can’t. If you are being sexually assaulted, you can’t, because you cannot focus on the mission.”

Currently, there are 53 victim advocates spread throughout Alaska to assist Coast Guard members in the event of a sexual assault. These victim advocates are an essential part of the process and Erickson smiles when she expresses how vital they are to her and the victim.

“Just like the victim, I want my advocate to know that I am there for them and they are not alone,” said Erickson. “My job is to ensure that they are equipped to carry out their crucial role.”

When speaking about sexual assault, Erickson said heavily, “It’s still a big deal.”

“Currently, we have anywhere from 15 to 20 cases at a time,” Erickson said. “That’s disturbing. Although the numbers are still not as large as the Air Force or Army, because we are a much smaller force, we still have alarming statistics. I would like to see our numbers come down – way down.”

Most of the cases that come to Erickson’s door deal with active duty members, and sometimes an occasional military spouse or adult dependent.

However, anyone under 18 years old is referred down the hall to Katherine Murphy, a District 17 Family Advocacy Specialist. Murphy also has a wealth of knowledge and experience in dealing with abuse cases, specifically with children.

“We need to be very cautious about arguing and fighting around our children, because the younger they are, the more they are affected,” said Murphy. “Mental illness can be caused by neglect or abuse.”

The bigger issue can be that the children being abused or neglected often grow up with a higher level of aggression, leading to potential very real health problems; like diabetes, high blood pressure and mental illness. If there is suspected child abuse or neglect in a home, there are various ways to report it, and you can choose to remain anonymous, Murphy emphasized.

“If you think there’s a possibility that abuse is going on, you should report it,” said Murphy. “The goal is never just to get someone in trouble. The goal is to make sure that this child has an opportunity to live in a warm, safe, supportive environment. How can we make that happen if we don’t know what’s going on?”

Murphy also wanted to remind and encourage Coast Guard members to report any possible child abuse or neglect as if you are a mandated reporter.

A sign is posted during an all-hands bowling event at Tsunami Lanes Bowling Alley at Base Kodiak, Alaska, April 4, 2019, to encourage and support victims of sexual assault or harassment to reach out to available resources in the Coast Guard. This event was part of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month and was accompanied by a cake-cutting ceremony with remarks from the base command and the sexual assault response coordinator in efforts to end sexual assault and harassment in the service. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Dean.

“We know that 70% of adults who have been charged with animal cruelty have also been cruel to a human being,” said Murphy. “So, when we see these dogs that are chained up with no food or water, you can 70% of the time, be guaranteed that a child in that home is being treated like the dog. It’s very hard for us to accept that, but those are the facts. I’ve seen that myself.”

In efforts to prevent abuse and harassment of any kind in the Coast Guard, Erickson and Murphy are required to conduct training on their respective topics to service members throughout the state on a routine basis.

With policies in place, like SAPRR, that protect our men and women, Erickson said she tries to adhere to the core values when conducting her training, because if we do that, we will have less sexual assault in our service, and that is the ultimate goal.

“If we could get a training that fosters SAPRR and the core values together, then we would really speak to the hearts and minds of our members,” said Erickson.

“If you come to me and say that you’ve been sexually assaulted, then I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure the SAPRR process comes to fruition,” said Erickson. “I can’t make any promises except for the fact that we are going to do our due diligence with the process. And if you trust it, you will see that it works.”

Even if someone comes through her door and says they have a problem, of any sort, she will never turn them away. As a Work Life team member, she strongly encourages anyone in need to seek help.

“We are a very, very strong team,” said Erickson. “We have a team of professionals who are subject matter experts within their fields, who have a lot of combined experience and education to work whatever issue you may have.”

Sadly, Erickson admitted that people don’t believe her when she tells them that sexual assault and harassment are present-day issues in our service that must be dealt with. However, she can’t do it alone.

“If anyone wants to become a victim advocate, come see me,” said Erickson. “We are always recruiting victim advocates, because the military is a revolving door of people in transition.”

When speaking to victims of sexual assault or harassment, Erickson had a very promising and positive outlook with a very encouraging stance.

“Trust the system, because when we stand up our Crisis Intervention Team, in an unrestricted sexual assault case, we bring in the command, Coast Guard Investigative Services, medical, legal and myself to determine the best way forward for the victim,” said Erickson. “Privacy is the most important thing in my job, and that we give the respect to the victim. If it’s a restricted report, no one knows, except for me and the victim and on occasion medical personnel.”

For any person seeking assistance with sexual assault, please contact Angie Erickson on the SARC hotline at 907-539-1034. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, please call Katherine Murphy at 907-487-5525 ext. 6504. This option is a last resort as it is not manned 24/7 and is not a crisis line. Please refer to the below primary resources:

Reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect:

Alaska Office of Child Services: 1-800-478-4444

Kodiak Police Department: 911 or 1-907-486-8000

Coast Guard Police: 1-907-487-5555

CGIS: 1-907-487-5422