Aug. 28, 2020 —
The Coast Guard expanded a victim’s options when disclosing a sexual assault, one of several substantial changes underway in the Service’s broader efforts to address the underlying issues of sexual assault and harassment in the workforce.
Coast Guard members who experience sexual assault may now confide in another person outside their chain of command without launching a formal investigation, and the victim will still have the option to file a restricted report. The shift provides more opportunities for the victim to receive emotional support by allowing victims talk to a trusted confidant before deciding whether, or how, to make a formal report. Once a victim is ready, they can then reach out to the Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinators and Victim Advocates.
Prior to this change, active duty roommates, friends, spouses, or family members were obligated to report any sexual assault, as soon as they knew about it. The Coast Guard maintains that sexual assault goes against the core values and erodes the trust we owe each other as shipmates. Confiding in a trusted ally can serve as a waypoint to reflect before choosing to report.
Having the option for disclosure to a private, secondary support person ensures both reporting options are still available when and how a victim chooses to report a sexual assault.
Lt. Sara Grell, a Victim Advocate (VA) based at Sector Detroit hopes the change in reporting will empower more people to come forward. “Some people are scared or timid about making a report — restricted or unrestricted — because they don’t know what the first step is in reporting. They might not be comfortable talking to the VA at first because they don’t know that person,” she said. “The ability to confide with someone they know gives them an avenue to talk to a person [who] they know and trust, and hopefully that person can work them through the process, whether that’s a report or continuing to talk to a confidential source.”
Restricted Reporting – You can file a restricted report with the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) or a credentialed Victim Advocate (VA), certain medical personnel, and legal support personnel. When a victim chooses to make a restricted report, the information remains confidential without notifying the command or law enforcement officials. Restricted reporting also allows the victim to receive resources for physical and mental recovery, allowing increased control over personal information. The victim has control to convert a restricted report to an unrestricted report at any time. Victims can now discuss a sexual assault incident with another Coast Guard member in confidence so long as the number is not in the victim's chain of command.
Unrestricted Reporting - Filing an unrestricted report initiates an official law enforcement investigation, provides a victim with access to support service options, and activates the support of the chain of command. For an Unrestricted Report, victims can disclose a sexual assault to a Victim Advocate (VA), Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), Chaplain, healthcare provider, or their chain of command. Once initiated, an unrestricted report cannot be converted to a restricted report.
Grell sees the policy change as something that will benefit victims as well as the people they confide in. “Understand that what they just went through will change their life,” she said. “You have the ability to help this person get the support they need, whether that’s talking, medical attention, or bringing this to justice.”