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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Feb. 29, 2024

Take a closer look at the Coast Guard’s Safe to Report policy

By AJ Pulkkinen, MyCG writer

The Coast Guard recently announced a new Safe to Report policy to eliminate a barrier to reporting sexual assault. Under the Safe to Report policy, a member who reports a sexual assault won’t be punished for minor collateral violations – such as underage drinking, breaking barracks rules, or an unacceptable or prohibited relationship. This policy also protects bystanders who intervene to prevent or disrupt a sexual assault. 

To encourage reporting for sexual assault, the Coast Guard is consciously deciding to overlook some incidents of misconduct. That’s a big deal. So, let’s take a deeper look at the new Safe to Report policy.  

Myth: We don’t need this policy. 

Fact: Many sexual assault victims say they hesitated to report because they feared repercussions for their minor collateral misconduct. Safe to Report takes that concern off the table. According to the Coast Guard’s recent Workplace Gender Relations Survey, 25% of female victims who chose not to report their sexual assault were concerned “they might get in trouble for something else they did.” 

“Sexual assault is a serious crime with devastating effects,” said Lindsay Charles, the Coast Guard’s SAPRR Oversight & Policy Office Chief. “Many disciplinary infractions such as fraternization or being out-of-bounds are not crimes in the civilian sector, though service members may be held accountable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to promote good order and discipline.”  

Myth: Sexual assault is a societal problem, not a Coast Guard problem. 

Fact: Sexual assault is more prevalent in the military than in rest of the country.  

According to the most recent survey, 4.3% of female and 0.7% of male active-duty Coast Guard members reported experiencing sexual assault within one year of the survey. Although that’s less than the DoD rates from the same year, Coast Guard personnel are more than twice as likely as a civilian to be sexually assaulted. Sexual assault is more common in the military than in the general public.   

  Female Male
USCG 4.3% 0.7%
Nation 1.7% 0.025%
DoD 8.4% 1.5%
People who have experienced sexual assault within 1 year of survey 

“We can’t NOT know that we have a problem. We will recognize it and assume responsibility for it,” said Adm. Linda Fagan during the February Senior Leadership Conference. “I am optimistic today because we have a generational opportunity to create the Coast Guard we’ve all wanted to have.”  

The Safe to Report policy helps protect victims who want to report a sexual assault. It also provides direction for field commanders and the Office of the Chief Prosecutor on how to handle collateral misconduct.   

Myth: The Safe to Report policy creates a double standard. 

Fact: Just as the civilian courts have misdemeanors and felonies, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) covers a spectrum of misconduct.  

Choosing not to impose punishment for some lower-level misconduct in order to make victims feel safer to report sexual assault is a reasoned step. Because of the long-term and immense impact to victims and the need to stop harmful behaviors in the Service, the Coast Guard has prioritized addressing sexual assault over minor misconduct.  

We all make choices. You know that if you choose to break barracks rules you could be booked for failure to obey an order. Choosing to break a rule, though, does not mean you are choosing to be sexually assaulted. Nor should it inhibit you from reporting a sexual assault or intervening to prevent a sexual assault from happening. 

The Coast Guard wants to make sure that victims feel safe to report the criminal act of sexual assault.  

Myth: People will claim sexual assault to avoid punishment.  

Fact: False reports of sexual assault are statistically rare. Studies show that only 2-8% of sexual assault reports are false, according to End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI). 

Moreover, there are criminal penalties for making a false report; anyone who intentionally makes false statements to law enforcement can be prosecuted for a felony offense. The Coast Guard decided this is a warranted risk in order to encourage sexual assault reporting.  

So, what is ‘minor’ misconduct? 

To determine if the Safe to Report policy applies, the authorized commander must first decide if the collateral conduct of the victim or witness was minor. ALCOAST 050/24 Coast Guard Safe to Report Policy defines authorized commanders as general court-martial convening authorities, the Commander of Coast Guard Cyber Command, training center commanding officers with an assigned Staff Judge Advocate, the commanding officer of the Coast Guard Yard, and base commanders in paygrade O6. 

The authorized commander must consider both mitigating and aggravating factors that go into determining whether collateral misconduct was minor or not. Some factors that would likely make the collateral misconduct be deemed not minor include actions that:  

  • Threatened a mission or objective,  
  • Threatened the health or safety of another person, or 
  • Resulted in significant personal or government property.  

If the authorized commander determines the actions are not minor, the Safe to Report policy does not apply. The victim or witness is then subject to discipline such as Administrative Remarks, non-judicial punishment (NJP), involuntary separation, or demotion. 

If the authorized commander determines the actions are minor, the Safe to Report policy applies. This means that the victim or witness cannot be disciplined for their minor collateral actions.  

Whether the collateral misconduct is minor or not, commands must always fulfill their obligations to victims and to the Service by ensuring all members receive, as applicable: substance abuse screening, fit for duty determination, and security access review. 

“The Coast Guard is choosing to prioritize prevention and reporting of the more injurious crime,” said Lindsay Charles. “This is the right thing to do for victims, facilitates prosecution of predators, and ultimately makes the entire Coast Guard community safer.” 


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