The month of April is designated Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and throughout the month Coast Guard Compass will highlight first-person accounts from men and women of the Coast Guard who are taking a stand against the crime of sexual assault. This week’s account is a joint piece from a Coast Guard investigative service special agent and a staff attorney.
Written by Special Agent Barry Buck, Coast Guard Investigative Service and Lt. Luke Petersen, staff attorney, Coast Guard Pacific Area.
In his 2013 State of the Coast Guard address, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bobb Papp, said: “We will eliminate sexual predators from our midst. We will protect our shipmates and hold predators accountable. And I reject the assertion of some experts that sexual assault is an unavoidable element of military service culture. Not in my Coast Guard.”
The key word in that statement is “we.” It’s on us; not in our Coast Guard.
As a military prosecutor and a Coast Guard Investigative Service special agent, it’s our job to hold predators accountable. In every case, legal, CGIS and Coast Guard Work-Life must join forces to ensure both the victim and the accused member receive the support services they need and every allegation is fully and fairly investigated. While identifying and prosecuting can remove offenders from the workforce, the reality is that sexual assault is still far too common in our Coast Guard.
From the investigative standpoint, both physical evidence and witness statements are collected, and every lead is pursued to its logical conclusion. Our goal is always finding the truth. While everyone is innocent until proven guilty, we can’t make assumptions about victims or offenders in sexual assault cases. Once we have gathered all the available evidence, it is presented to the responsible command, where a decision will be made on whether or not the subject of the allegation is charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
From the prosecution perspective, our goal is to administer justice. We engage closely with CGIS while they investigate and advise the command as they consider whether a member should be charged. Once the charging decision is made, we expend every effort to hold the subject accountable for the crimes charged through the court-martial process.
Many times, once the charges have been referred to trial, the case is heard by a panel of members. Under the Rules for Courts-Martial, these are military members who are selected as the “best qualified for the duty by reason of their age, education, training, experience, length of service and judicial temperament.” They represent the culture and values of our service, and must ultimately determine if the evidence presented at trial proves the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
When we get a report of a sexual assault, it’s already too late. Regardless of the end result, there is typically months of investigation as people are asked to go over some of the most intimate details in front of complete strangers. Ultimately, someone’s trust and personal integrity are violated, people’s lives are forever changed and a unit’s readiness evaporates.
Investigating and prosecuting offenders is just one of the ways we contribute to a culture in which this crime is unacceptable and every member lives by the service’s core values. That’s why we are passionate about being part of the Coast Guard’s sexual assault prevention and response program. We ask that each and every one of you do your part to prevent sexual assault by looking out for your shipmates and taking time to talk about this crime.