Military rape crisis center presses US coast guard to improve sexual assault prevention and Response

One in three women, as well as many men, in the Coast Guard are going to fall victim of sexual assault and rape. While a lot of focus has been on the Department of Defense to make changes, the United States Coast Guard–which falls under the Department of Homeland Security–has been exempt from having to implement the same DoD policies that would help sexual assault survivors.

Two weeks ago Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Reps. Mike Turner (R-OH) and Niki Tsongas (D-MA) wrote to the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard to express their concern that the Coast Guard has not yet adopted an expedited transfer policy for victims of sexual violence as have the military departments under the authority of the Department of Defense. To this day the Coast Guard refuses to adopt to the STRONG Act even though it might save the life of a Coast Guard rape survivor.

The United States Coast Guard has refused the Military Rape Crisis Center’s numerous pleas to have trained victim advocates at every single Coast Guard installation. For instance if a woman or man is raped at a small boat station in Maine they have to contact the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) in Boston, Massachusett-two states away. If that is not daunting enough many survivors and  civilian service providers report that phone calls and emails to the SARC in Boston are often not returned, leaving the survivors alone, scared and vulnerable for repeat attacks.

Coast Guardsmen in Maine are not the only ones that lack the support that they need to make a confidential immediate report and receive the help that they deserve. Many Coast Guard stations throughout the United States do not have trained victim advocates to offer immediate help for survivors of sexual assault and rape.  

As a Coast Guard rape survivor and a full time victim advocate working with the Military Rape Crisis Center I know first hand the severity of this epidemic. Due to the lax policies on sexual assault in the US Coast Guard what we are seeing at the Center is an increase of Active Duty Coast Guardsmen and women seeking services from us. The rapes are becoming much more violent and the retaliation for reporting an assault is becoming much more vicious.

A group of Active Duty Coast Guardsmen, veterans and the general public got together to help bring awareness to the issue of sexual abuse in the Coast Guard. Together we formed www.SupportTheCG.com as a way to bring awareness and to help end this epidemic that has hurt so many of our shipmates. Please sign the petition so our shipmates can one day serve their country without fear of being sexually assaulted and/or raped. Visit the Military Rape Crisis Center at www.stopmilitaryrape.org.

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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