Several years back I heard about the Military Rape Crisis Center looking for volunteers to canvas throughout the Northeast informing Active Duty service members and Veterans about the help that is out there for them if they have been sexually victimized. I submitted my application to be a member of the Street Team and was chosen. I spent that summer with 14-20 others working to eliminate sexual violence in the military.
That summer we made 32 stops in 12 states. We were often welcomed with open arms; given bottles of water when it was hot outside and a table inside the military base when it was pouring rain. Most importantly we built long lasting relationships and members of the Street Team still are invited back for pre/post deployment events, yellow ribbon events and to serve as advisors to the sexual assault prevention and response office.
Out of thirty-two military installations we only received negative feedback from one unit, the sole Coast Guard base that we visited; Coast Guard Boston (comprised of Sector Boston, District 1, Station Boston, BSU/ISC Boston, several cutters and so forth) Split between two separate locations just several blocks apart Coast Guard Boston has since grown notorious for having the most sexual assault cases per capita seeking assistance through the Military Rape Crisis Center than any other U. S military installation in the entire world.
Two of our Street Team members are former members of Coast Guard Boston. Both were raped and forced out of their careers. Due to their personal connection to the base we knew it was going to be the most difficult stop. However, we soon realized that the difficulties wouldn’t be from the survivors dealing with triggers (they are two of the strongest people I ever met and am in awe by how well they handled being back at a place that caused them so much trauma) but instead from the apathy, ignorance, denial and downright abuse that we encountered from members (mostly Officers) at the various units that comprised of Coast Guard Boston.
At Coast Guard Boston when we were told the “f-word” in conjunction with “nobody was ever raped here” we knew that we were in for a long battle.
We did not allow their apathy to defer us away from helping those stationed at Coast Guard Boston. With the mentality of “If they are willing to treat mostly civilian rape advocates in such a sick and abusive manner one can only imagine how badly rape survivors are being treated behind the gate.”
Long after our 32-stop military tour ended many of us continued visiting outside USCG Boston on a regular basis. It was clear that we, as anti-rape advocates, were viewed in a negative light while the rape culture within Coast Guard Boston thrived.
It did not take long for the following to happen:
• SARCs from around the nation called us upset that they were contacted by Coast Guard Boston to “stay away from us”. The victim blaming statements given to them by Coast Guard Boston obvious made SARCs upset the way that survivors are being treated. The SARCs understood that Coast Guard Boston contacting and threatening them was a retaliation against our Director, a Coast Guard veteran that was brutally raped and sent to Coast Guard Boston and further mistreated.. The SARCs were obviously upset that Coast Guard Boston was suggesting to do an injustice to Armed Service members; not giving them all the support that is available to them, because Coast Guard Boston wanted to continue their abusive behavior against survivors. Obviously the SARCs were quick to join in out initiative to help survivors in the U.S Coast Guard after witnessing first hand what we had to go through in Boston. Non-Coast Guard SARCs and Victim Advocates especially around New England are still our biggest supporters and we receive the many referrals from them. Non-Coast Guard SARCs are also willing to work with Coast Guard rape survivors to help them get the help that they need. If you are a Coast Guard rape survivor please know that you can go to another military installation to get help.
• One of the two rape survivor that were with us lost her privilege of entering the base even when invited! When she did enter the base prior to the ban she remained professional and did not take her advocacy with her. To this day she is not able to get a response from JAG officer Christine Cutter or anyone else on that base.
• Residing in the North End I often took my dog on walks to one of the few public parks in the neighbor; a park directly next to Coast Guard Boston on Commercial Street. A Coast Guardsman that recognized me as a Street Team member was clearly not happy with us helping rape survivors. The name on his blouse said DeCola . I later found out was Peter DeCola the Executive Officer of Coast Guard Boston. Decola chose not to help a shipmate that were being forced out of her career for reporting rape.
• We received threats, prank calls and harassing emails (often from @uscg.mil email addresses). When this was brought to the attention of the Coast Guard Investigative Services they chose not to take any actions.
While other military branches were sending us thank you notes and open invitations to return we were receiving threats at Coast Guard Boston. At all units we were doing the same exact thing, using the same exact materials (with only minor change to focus on particular branch of service) and saying the same exact script. Thrity-one military installations are saying “Thank you. You are a godsend” and one is saying “Go f-yourself. You are all crazy, horrible people that are saying bad things about the Coast Gard”.
Sadly, though our predictions of an environment that thrives on “rape survivors are the bad guys” and “rape survivors should be punished” were true and it did not take long for phone calls to be made into the Military Rape Crisis Center office from rape survivors based out of Boston.
The most memorable being a Coast Guardsman that took our flier paused to read it, looked up at me with the saddest eyes and walked away without saying a word. Several months later I ran into him in the waiting room while he was waiting to receive services through at the Military Rape Crisis Center. The sadness he had in his eyes that day still gets to me.
Because of confidentiality I was never told of his situation or what had happened to him but I know that our work standing outside Coast Guard Boston helped him get closer to receiving the services that he deserved.
A local business approved fliers to go up on their bulletin board. An employee told me of an incident in which a Coast Guardsman in full uniform saw the flier, stormed in, ripped the flyer off the bulletin, crumbled it up and threw it on the floor.
Another incident involved one of the two Coast Guards rape survivors were invited back to the base only to be publicly humiliated and left out in a rainy, cold February being laughed at, threatened and told that she is not welcomed back because she is helping rape survivors. Why invite her in the first place? It was all part of the scheme to let us know that anti-rape activists are just not welcomed.
Several members of Coast Guard Boston are so angry with folks that help rape survivors because we are unveiling the abuse that they had put on their fellow shipmates. They would go out of their way to continue to slander and put down rape survivors and all that are helping survivors.
Our fight to eliminate the rape culture at Coast Guard Boston is still going on. Our service members are still suffering. The phone at the Center is still ringing from those in the Coast Guard asking for assistance.
Being raised in a small patriotic town in the suburbs of Boston I grew up having the upmost respect for members of the military. Knowing that I personally could never serve (I have Arrhythmias) I know that helping those that are serving is the most patriotic thing that I personally can do.
I support the troops and what better way to show that than to work to eliminate sexual violence against our heroes? Our Coasties need help. They are being raped at an epidemic rate and the very organization that is suppose to help them are turning their back at them, sending out emails to their entire unit to “not talk to the rape survivor” and evidently survivors are kicked out of service and barred from entering the base ever again. If you report rape in the Coast Guard’s eyes you are the bad ones. If you try to help rape survivors in the Coast Guard’s eyes you are the bad one. I am here to tell you all that we are not the bad ones.
Men and women that report rape in the United States Coast Guard deserve to be respected and treated with dignity. Our Coast Guard rape survivors do not deserve to be forced out of service for reporting a rape. Our Coast Guard veterans do not deserve to be barred from entering a Coast Guard installation because they are doing the honorable, noble thing of helping their shipmates.
The days that Coast Guard Boston sweep rape under the rug are running out thanks to the blog www.mydutytospeak.com started by Coast Guard Boston rape survivor. All survivors now have a voice and an outlet to share the story of abuse that they suffered while serving this nation.
If you are a rape survivor in the military and want to talk to somebody visit Military Rape Crisis Center. There is help out there.