Junior personnel provide insights into eliminating sexual assault from the Coast Guard

Logos representing the U.S. Coast Guard Office of Health, Safety & Work-Life, the teal ribbon signifiying the military's commitment to eliminating sexual assault, and the seal of the U.S. Coast Guard Judge Advocate General. U.S. Coast Guard illustration by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kelly Parker.

Written by Cmdr. Chris O’Neil, Public Affairs Officer, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Military Campaign Office

The Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Strategic Plan and Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp’s Shipmates 19 message clearly establish the service’s goal of eliminating sexual assault in the Coast Guard. What is not as clear is the course the service needs to follow to achieve that goal.

A number of actions are underway to help chart that course, using the goals and objectives of the SAPR Strategic Plan as waypoints. As the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Military Campaign Office and the Sexual Assault Prevention Council formulated a plan of action and milestones to implement the SAPR Strategic Plan, the need to identify all of the potential enablers of sexual assault presented as a key to helping the Sexual Assault Prevention Council’s Assessment Standing Committee and the Prevention and Advocacy Standing Committee begin improvements to the Coast Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.

In June the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. John Currier directed the creation of a Junior Council to collect input from volunteers of the age demographic within the Coast Guard most likely to experience sexual assault and who wish to inform the Coast Guard’s efforts on eliminating sexual assault. Lt. Cmdr. Dan Rogers, who serves in the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Military Campaign Office, led the development and execution of the focus group process.

“Once we designed how we wanted the focus groups to work, we piloted the process with the Commandant’s Leadership Excellence and Diversity (LEAD) Council to gather their feedback on the design,” said Rogers in an e-mail interview.

The Junior Council, as a subcommittee of the LEAD Council, will consolidate field input from Leadership Diversity Advisory Councils across the Coast Guard after the focus groups are conducted.

“The focus groups are being conducted in 10 locations across the Coast Guard at sectors, air stations, training centers and office locations between July 1 and Sept. 1,” said Rogers. “The focus groups are neither training nor an attempt to promote awareness or correct misperceptions relating to sexual assault prevention and response. The goal of the focus group discussions is to eliminate sexual assault in the Coast Guard. We know the majority of sexual assaults involve our junior members so it’s reasonable to expect this age group to have some insights on how we might end sexual assault in the Coast Guard.”

The focus groups are comprised of younger and more junior members of the Coast Guard. Enlisted members are generally petty officer 2nd class and below while officers who volunteer are generally lieutenant junior grade and below. Civilians who volunteer are generally GS-9 or WG-10 and below.

The focus groups are conducted in two hour sessions using facilitated discussion designed to generate discussion under the broad categories of policy, procedures, people and the environment. All of the information gained from the focus groups is non-attributable. The information gained from these discussions will be placed in a final report for the vice commandant. The discussions are already providing the SAPR MCO insights on the service’s handling of the issue.

“At this point I have facilitated focus groups for the LEAD, Petaluma, Calif., Yorktown, Va., Miami and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.,” said Rogers. “With Junior Council member Petty Officer 2nd Class Darrell Linders, I have identified themes under the categories of the approach itself, thoughts on the policy and/or definition of sexual assault, and command climate. I have also noticed that junior members focus on command climate while more senior members tend to focus on accountability.”

Rogers continued by saying that junior members often don’t trust the chain of command, and officer and enlisted members alike said the service culture that enables treating new people like objects dehumanizes them and lessens the respect shown to them. While discussions are still ongoing, Rogers said another emerging trend is that unless it has happened to them or someone they know, people don’t believe sexual assault is actually real and, even if they believe it is real, many don’t believe it is actually a problem in the Coast Guard.

The information gained from the focus group discussions should provide valuable guidance to the Assessment Standing Committee and the Prevention and Advocacy Standing Committee as they develop plans of action that will provide a plot of the service’s course to ending sexual assault in the military.

If you were unable to participate in a focus group, are an enlisted member (E-5 or below), an officer (O-2 or below) or a civilian employee (GS-9 or WG-10 or below) and have an idea or insight that can help improve the sexual assault prevention and response program or help us reach our goal, please send an e-mail to SAPR.MCO@uscg.mil. Your feedback will be non-attributable information, just as if you had participated in one of the focus groups.

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