Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Creating a Zero Tolerance Environment

In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), the Coast Guard Compass will feature weekly stories throughout April on the service’s efforts to create a zero tolerance environment with respect to sexual assault. The Coast Guard’s position on sexual assaults is a straightforward one:

Sexual assault is a crime that is not compatible with military service and the Coast Guard core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.

In recognition of the importance of this issue, the Coast Guard stood up the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program in 2007 and continues to expand the initiative throughout the organization.

The theme of this year’s SAAM is “Hurts One, Affects All.” In an ALCOAST on the subject, Rear Admiral Mark Tedesco observes that sexual assaults in the military negatively impact mission readiness and can reverberate throughout a military unit and the community that exists around it. In the same ALCOAST, RADM Tedesco acknowledges that “sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in our society and in the military. The (Coast Guard) recognizes that some victims forgo medical and support service to avoid command or law enforcement involvement.”

To put the Coast Guard’s efforts to combat sexual assaults in the service into context, we spoke to SAPR program manager Shaw Marie Wren.

“The Coast Guard is serious about achieving a zero tolerance for sexual assault within its ranks. I am particularly impressed with the continually increasing support for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program as the culture continues to shift towards an even greater understanding and sensitivity to this topic and the people affected by sexual assault.”

That culture shift is taking shape in many forms. From training Sexual Assault Response Coordinators to respond to sexual assaults cases throughout the service; to the aggressive prosecution of sexual assault offenders; to specialized training for future leaders at the Coast Guard Academy, the Coast Guard has made “zero tolerance” more than a slogan. It is a command imperative.

Over the next several weeks, we will introduce you to several members of the service involved in creating and enforcing our zero tolerance culture. We’ll also seek some outside perspective on just how well we’re doing responding to this issue. Our goal is to cast a spotlight on one of the most challenging issues facing the military and the Coast Guard’s response to it.

As always, we invite your respectful comments and will do our best to answer your questions or facilitate a dialogue on this important topic.

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  • PB

    I have served in the Coast Guard and been raped by a fellow shipmate I know first hand the damage that rape does not only to the individual that was raped but to the morale and readiness of an entire unit. What happens after a survivor reports a rape only further victimize them and survivors often consider it to be more traumatizing than the rape itself; survivors reported being threatened, intimidated, and a recent study has shown that over 90% of rape victims in the Coast Guard are involuntarily discharge from service. In many cases survivors are often diagnosed with medical/psychological conditions that would otherwise make them ineligible to continue their service more and often than not those diagnoses are false. Nobody should be discharge from service for reporting a rape!

    The civilian law enforcement, college campuses and so on are moving away from the term “zero tolerance” because of the harm that it does to rape survivors. Imagine the hurt that a man or woman that was raped feels after they reported the crime, watch their perpetrator go free and are later told that there is a zero-tolerance policy. Self blame is the most common feeling a rape survivor has, being told that there is a zero-tolerance policy while seeing a perpetrator be set free only deepens the self blame.

    I spoken to Shawn Wren on numerous occasions and I know she is passionate to help revamp the entire sexual assault response and prevention program of the United States Coast Guard however she can not do it alone, her team of SARCs can not do it alone. It takes every single member of the United States Coast Guard to be actively involved in preventing a culture that leads to sexual assaults.

    Too many of our shipmates had been raped or assaulted, too many of our shipmate lost their careers as a result of a crime done to them. The only people that can end rape in the Coast Guard are those that are wearing the uniform of the United States Coast Guard.

  • Christopher Lagan

    The dialogue regarding “zero tolerance” is an intriguing one.

    The Coast Guard’s goal with regard to sexual assaults is a culture of officers and enlisted personnel who not only understand that sexual assault is a crime but who will not tolerate anything short of respect for their fellow shipmates. We currently define that goal as “zero tolerance.”

    Given our goals, how do you feel we can better articulate “zero tolerance” as we continue our work to eradicate sexual assaults from the Coast Guard?

  • Stephanie

    As a survivor myself, “zero tolerance” is something women (and men on occasions) can only hope for.