Guest blog: Sexual Assault Awareness Month is Never Over

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As we wrap up our series in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, guest blogger Dr. Patrick McGann offers up a frank assessment of the Coast Guard’s efforts to eradicate sexual violence from our service and reminds us that creating a culture of prevention is an all hands evolution that never ends. McGann is the director of strategy and planning for Men Can Stop Rape (MCSR). Founded in 1997, MCSR exists “to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.” MCSR works with the the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office as well as the Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program to help our military services 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. Thanks to Dr. McGann for this thoughtful contribution to our discussion on sexual violence in the Coast Guard.

Dr. Patrick McGann (Photo coutresy of Men Can Stop Rape)
Dr. Patrick McGann (Photo courtesy of Men Can Stop Rape)

Post written by Patrick McGann, Ph.D., Director of Strategy and Planning, Men Can Stop Rape

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is Never Over – Creating a Culture of Prevention

The Coast Guard, along with the Service Branches in the Department of Defense (DoD), has begun a transformative mission: to prevent sexual assault in the military. Creating a culture devoted to stopping sexual assault before it starts is no run of the mill task. Some of us in the civilian world have been working at it for years. I first became involved with Men Can Stop Rape in 1997, when the organization was founded, and our mission – to mobilize men to use their strength for creating cultures free from sexual, dating, and domestic violence – has inspired me ever since to believe we can institute the change we want on a large scale.

I have had the honor of working with the Coast Guard this past year as part of Men Can Stop Rape’s creation of a sexual assault prevention social marketing campaign for the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. You have likely seen the campaign’s theme, “Hurts one. Affects all,” during April. We wanted to capture the larger ramifications of the act of violence, starting with the victim and spreading outward – the ripple effect, we call it in our work. The impact expands outward to include families, friends, work colleagues, neighbors and increasingly larger parts of the population.

MCSR Logo While developing the campaign, we recognized the need to better understand the ripple effect in the military world and its connection to mission readiness. So we conducted focus groups with all grades of commanders, talking about to them about the topic. One of the comments of the Coast Guard commanders has stuck with me months later. He used an especially meaningful phrase that seemed to capture the devastating and lasting consequences – “family divided.” Divisions rupture a unit if people take sides, splitting the cohesion of the group, and mistrust can pervade the environment – mistrust that the leadership will handle the situation expediently and judiciously, mistrust of the people involved in the incident, and the mistrust of the people who might have differing views of what happened. Unlike the DoD Service Branches, though, the divisions can and often do spread into Coast Guard members’ actual families, who reside nearby and often socialize with one another.

What better reason to invest in creating a culture of prevention? The Guardian Ethos, then, not only applies to protecting the citizens of the United States. It also applies to protecting the capacity and ability to do so, which involves members of the Coast Guard protecting each other. Here are three ways to better protect that capacity and ability:

Improve Organizational Structures and Practices: A culture of prevention requires designated, full-time Sexual Assault Response Coordinators. It is also essential that all Commanders and NCOs are actively involved in sending the message that sexual assault prevention is an important component of mission readiness and that every Coast Guard member can and should play a positive role in prevention.

Educate Providers: Clear, consistent, and state-of-the art education for Coast Guard leaders and service providers (i.e., SARCs, victim advocates, healthcare providers, chaplains, law enforcement, criminal investigators, judge advocates, family services personnel, etc.) across all parts of the Coast Guard is a vitally important part of creating a culture of prevention.

Strengthen Individual Knowledge and Skills: Within the past ten years, a significant number of articles and studies have appeared in support of the bystander approach, defined as empowering everyone to intervene in situations leading up to a sexual assault or during an incident, as well as to speak out against social norms that support sexual assault. All the DoD Service Branches are starting to implement bystander intervention training or are in the planning stages. The Coast Guard should implement this training too.

You are in the process of creating a new Coast Guard in which sexual assault is dramatically reduced or eliminated. You can’t do this in a month. You can create a culture of prevention, though, by not letting Sexual Assault Awareness Month fade. Stick with it all year round.

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