Failing our service members that been sexually assaulted.

The Department of Defense (DOD) spent millions on their Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program to help combat what is currently a sexual assault epidemic in the United States Armed Forces. They distributed posters with slogans such as “hurt one, affects all” to all United States Military Bases worldwide.

A poster produced by the Department of Defense 2010

Aside from the posters they formed new positions called Sexual Assault Response Coordinators or better known as SARCs. These SARCs are suppose to be found on every DOD military base to offer support to rape survivors from the time that they report the assault till the survivor chooses that they no longer need a SARC. They are suppose to be available 24/7 to all sexual assault survivors regardless if they are deployed, serving state side, reservists and Guardsmen on drill or Active Duty members who been assaulted while on duty or at liberty. They are suppose to advocate for the survivor and be on the lookout for her or his best interest. According to, a DOD website about the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program:

“The Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) is considered the center of gravity when it comes to ensuring that victims of sexual assault receive appropriate and responsive care. They serve as the single point of contact to coordinate sexual assault victim care. The term “Sexual Assault Response Coordinator” is a term utilized throughout DoD and the Services to facilitate communication and transparency regarding sexual assault response capability. “

SARCs also have the reputation of ignoring survivors, blaming survivors and not returning phone calls to rape survivors in distress.

A Massachusetts Guardman wrote about her SARC

“After over a dozen failed attempts I blocked my phone number and called her. This time she answered and when I said it was me she went…”Hello….hello…I can’t hear you….click” she did not answer the phone when I called back”

SARCs primary responsibility is to help survivors so why do they disappear once a service member reports a rape? Isabella, a volunteer from the Military Rape Crisis Center went to investigate just that. On the Massachusetts National Guard website it list the contact information of the SARCs working for the Mass National Guard. The same contact information is posted below the DOD-issued posters on Mass National Guard installations throughout the state. Isabella started calling all the SARCs starting with the Massachusetts National Guard Sexual Assault Hotline at 508-889-6644 and went down the list to calling individual SARCs. Despite “the SARC position is filled with a full-time service member to ensure 24 hour availability” promise, not one SARC answered her call.

The problem does not end there. Isaballa continued on to emails and three of the six emails that she sent was bounced back to her. To confirm that it was a problem on the National Guard’ end and not her email server I also tried emailing them using my three emails; my work account, college email account and my personal gmail account and the same emails bounced right back to me as being undeliverable.

As Isabella wrote:

“Now imagine if I was Active Duty and I was just assaulted. Afraid, angry, and confused. I want to talk to a SARC but where are they? What if I was overseas? I called my SARC and nobody picks up. I send an email and it gets bounce right back to me. A person who may have just experienced the worst trauma in their lives may get fed up and change their mind and not report it or not get help. They want you to report an assault but they do not make it easy. What if you are the parent of a woman that was raped and you want resources for her? Or you can be just someone like me, a service provider trying to speak to a SARC for a client.”

These are the folks that are being paid by our tax dollars to help sexual assault survivors. Their sole duty is to help rape survivors yet their contact information has been incorrectly given. Yes, with further investigation you can find the correct contact info but why put additional stress on someone who just been raped? Information on how to get help after a rape should be readily available and always correct and updated. Our troops deserve to be supported especially if one been sexually assaulted and as it stands now the military is failing our troops. They military is saying “look at us! We spent millions on helping survivors. We really care about our rape survivors and have a zero-tolerance policy!” but when you look closely it is just an act cause a poster with incorrect information or a twenty-four hours hotline that is often not answered is not helping many survivors. How can they maintain a zero-tolerance policy if a survivor can not even reach them during time of need? Makes you wonder if they purposely do this to defer survivors from reporting an assault.

There are some great SARCs out there-but at the same time there are incidents like these that should be fixed if the military is serious about sexual assault. Three incorrect emails out of six posted being incorrect? Nobody picking up a hotline that promises to be available 24 hours a day for a survivor? There is absolutely no excuse for that.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

Panayiota Bertzikis enlisted in the United States Coast Guard in 2005 and served at Coast Guard Station Burlington, VT and Coast Guard Boston. While on Active Duty she was repulsed in the way that sexual assault survivors were treated in the United States Coast Guard and founded the Military Rape Crisis Center from her barrack room to offer support and assistance to her fellow shipmates/survivors.

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