Coast Guard lawyers, commonly referred to as JAGs, are on the front line of the battle to eradicate sexual assaults from the service. Working side-by-side with the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) and victim advocates, Coast Guard lawyers are responsible for prosecuting sexual assault offenders and protecting the right to a fair trial for the accused. This week’s Guardian of the Week, Lieutenant Chad Kauffman, is quickly establishing himself as a leader among his fellow attorneys for his work on sexual assault cases.
“LT Kauffman embodies what we would like to see in all our JAGs – a sensitivity to the extremely controversial issue of sexual assault, and an understanding of the unique challenges presented by sexual assault cases in the legal arena,” said Coast Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program manager Shawn Marie Wren.
In five years with the Coast Guard, Kauffman has already been involved in the prosecution of nine sexual assault cases. He has won some, lost others but it isn’t wins and losses that motivate him.
“One of my most rewarding career defining moments came from a case that I lost. The case was a sexual assault I prosecuted that resulted in an acquittal. The day after the trial ended, I was sitting at my desk when the phone rang. The victim had called to thank me even though we lost the case. She told me that the people in our office were the only people who believed in her. She was grateful that she had her day in court and told me that it created a sense of closure. I believe this helped her to begin to put the assault behind her and move on with her life. Whenever I have a tough day where I don’t think I’m making a difference, I think about that phone call.” (Lieutenant Chad Kauffman)
In an interview with Coast Guard Compass, Kauffman acknowledged that sexual assault cases are the most difficult of all criminal cases to effectively prosecute.
“A lot of the time it comes down to the testimony of the victim versus that of the accused unless we’re lucky enough to find additional evidence.”
Kauffman believes the difficulty in proving a sexual assault is partly based upon the stigma associated with being a victim. Victims are often reluctant to report the crime because of embarrassment or fear of retribution. That began to change in December of 2007 when the Coast Guard changed its policy on sexual assaults to allow restricted reporting of assaults.
“Some victims don’t want their day in court,” Kauffman told the Compass. “Some prefer to move on through other means.”
Restricted reporting allows just that. Victims can report their assaults and request survivor services, such as medical care and counseling without pressing charges against their attacker. This may not seem like justice to some, but it is an important development in protecting the privacy and respecting the wishes of sexual assault victims.
“Whatever a victim chooses to do is the right thing for them and no one should judge their choice or make them feel guilty for making the choice that is right for them,” said Wren.
By prosecuting sexual assault offenders and upholding the rights of the accused, LT Kauffman and the men and women of the Coast Guard legal program are doing their part to create 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.
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