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My Coast Guard
Commentary | April 20, 2023

Three tools to support sexual assault survivors

By AJ Pulkkinen, MyCG writer

Editor’s Note: April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. This month and throughout the year we are reminded how sexual harassment, assault and abuse impact every person in our community. The Coast Guard is committed to combatting sexual violence within its ranks and providing survivors with the confidential assistance and time they need to heal.  

This article spotlights three tools available to Coast Guard members who survive a sexual assault. Sexual assault can leave significant, long-term impacts on a victim if left untreated, making it vital that support be anchored in a victim’s choice at every stage from reporting to recovery. This empowers the victim to have a voice throughout their path to recovery.  

Please view this video with Rear. Adm. Dana Thomas, Director of Health, Safety and Work Life, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Heath Jones as they discuss Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month during April, and always. 

First, it’s important to understand that a victim has two ways to report a sexual assault. Both types of reports are completely voluntary:  

  • Restricted Reporting. The process used by a service member or adult armed forces dependent to disclose to specific individuals on a confidential basis that he or she is the victim of a sexual assault. If the assault has been disclosed to ONLY a sexual assault response coordinator, a victim advocate, or health care provider, it will not be reported to the chain of command or law enforcement (unless the victim consents or an established exception is exercised). Details of the incident can be recorded in CATCH; see Tool #1 below. 
  • Unrestricted Reporting. The process used by a service member or adult armed forces dependent to disclose, without requesting confidentiality or restricted reporting, that he or she is the victim of a sexual assault. Under these circumstances, the victim’s report to command or law enforcement authorities or to a sexual assault response coordinator, a victim advocate, or health care provider, or anyone else is reportable to the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS). 

Tool #1: CATCH a Serial Offender 

The CATCH a Serial Offender Program can aid a victim’s recovery by providing a confidential way for service members and their adult dependents to provide criminal investigators information about a restricted report of sexual assault and/or offender.   

Coast Guard and Department of Defense investigators search for repeat offenders by comparing CATCH entries against other CATCH submissions, unrestricted reports and other law enforcement databases. 

If a “match” is made, the victim is offered the option of converting to an unrestricted report and pursuing the investigative process. 

Tool #2: Safe Helpline  

DoD Safe Helpline provides anonymous, confidential crisis-intervention services and access to resources for members of the DoD and Coast Guard communities affected by sexual assault.   
Since launching in 2011, Safe Helpline has served more than 225,000 visitors through their telephone and online helplines.  

Safe Helpline also provides a comprehensive app, a suite of educational materials, and a responder database to meet the needs of the DoD and Coast Guard stakeholders. The technology behind Safe Helpline continues to ensure safe, secure, anonymous, and confidential services. 

Safe Helpline also offers Safe HelpRoom, a secure, anonymous, moderated community forum where survivors of sexual assault can support each other in a safe, online environment. Moderated by Safe Helpline staff, Safe HelpRoom helps sexual assault survivors connect with each other from anywhere in the world. 

Local Safe HelpRoom allows Coast Guard sexual assault response coordinators and certified victim advocates to host their own group chats. Once trained, local hosts can offer tailored assistance for their community with an individual topic, convenient time, specific group and discussion structure that best fits the needs of their community.  

Tool #3: CGIS Tip Line 

Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) has a mobile app, CGTips, which allows users to instantly and anonymously report information about a crime to law enforcement. You can make an anonymous tip anytime, anywhere. Although the case will remain anonymous, CGIS will investigate the crime to the furthest extent possible. (Even if you report anonymously, you will be able to track the investigation using the case number.) CGIS encourages people to share information about new crimes, as well information that may help with an ongoing investigation, victims of sexual assault who have already reported the crime can also use CGTips if they experience any retaliation or reprisal related to reporting.  In the News