Retaliation: Not in my Coast Guard

Written by Rear Adm. Peter Gautier

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This morning, Human Rights Watch released a report titled “Embattled: Retaliation Against Sexual Assault Survivors in the US Military.” The report contains findings based on Human Rights Watch’s independent research into retaliation against sexual assault victims and includes a number of recommendations to Congress and the military on ways we can better protect reporting victims. Many of these recommendations are either in the process of being implemented or considered by Congress, the Secretary of Defense, and the Coast Guard. The rest will certainly be reviewed.

In June 2014, the Commandant of the Coast Guard issued ALCOAST281/14: MILITARY WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTION, a lawful order that prohibits retaliation. In it, retaliation against a military member is defined as one of the following actions taken because that member, either formally or informally, reported a criminal offense:

1. Taking or threatening to take an unfavorable or adverse personnel action, or withholding or threatening to withhold a favorable personnel action,

2. Ostracism, which is the exclusion from social acceptance, privilege, or friendship with the intent to discourage that individual from reporting a criminal offense or otherwise discourage the due administration of justice, or

3. Maltreatment, which is treatment by peers or by other persons, that, when viewed objectively under all the circumstances, is abusive or otherwise unwarranted, unjustified, and unnecessary for any lawful purpose that is done with the intent to discourage reporting of a criminal offense or otherwise discourage the due administration of justice and that results in physical or mental harm or suffering, or reasonably could have caused physical or mental harm or suffering. Maltreatment does not require a senior-subordinate relationship as is required for maltreatment under Article 93, UCMJ.

Retaliation against reporting victims of sexual assault is a barrier to transforming our culture. It is also contrary to our duty to people – retaliation has very real impacts on the personal well-being of a victim and can damage an otherwise promising military career. If you are a victim of retaliation or witness to it, you should immediately report this behavior to the Coast Guard Investigative Service.

The Coast Guard applauds Human Rights Watch for bringing attention to the concerted effort the Coast Guard and the rest of the military services have made to drive sexual assault and the behaviors that enable it from our ranks. We also thank them for validating the importance of addressing retaliation against reporting victims of sexual assault. Retaliation negatively impacts individuals and the units they serve in. Furthermore, cultures inhospitable to sexual assault must also be inhospitable to retaliation.

It is always worth reinforcing that sexual assault is a crime that undermines the core values of our service. We have an enduring leadership commitment at every level to protect our people and to preserve the confidence of our members and the American people. The United States Coast Guard is committed to building and maintaining an environment inhospitable to sexual assault and the behaviors that enable it – like hazing and harassing which create an environment which devalues certain members of the service.

Rear Adm. Peter Gautier
U.S. Coast Guard
Director, Governmental and Public Affairs

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One Response

  1. Timothy Hamilton says:

    Perhaps more reforms are needed. Sen Gillibrand’s bill which is opposed by military hierarchy would help considering the recent report shows that the services have done nothing to stop retaliation against witnesses and victims:

    “For those who do report, they are more likely than not to experience retaliation.

    “Despite a much-touted reform that made retaliation a crime, the DoD made zero progress on improving the 62 percent retaliation rate that we had in 2012.

    “According to a Human Rights Watch report, the DoD cannot provide a single example of serious disciplinary action taken against those who retaliate.

    “A sexual assault survivor is 12 times more likely to suffer retaliation than see their offender get convicted for a sex offense.”

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