My Duty to Speak

Jennifer Norris speaks at the National Press Club

Jennifer Norris, Maine Director of the Military Rape Crisis Center speech at a recent press conference hosted by Protect Our Defenders. Jennifer was  in Washington DC with other sexual assault survivors of the military asking elected Congressional leaders to conduct a full investigation on how the DoD is addressing rape and sexual assault in the military.

My Duty to Speak

Coast Guard’s response to sexual violence.

Anyone that ever attempted to work with the United States Coast Guard came upon these apathetic response from Coast Guard members. We hope to start the conversation so we can eliminate sexual violence in the United States Coast Guard.

My Duty to Speak

Is rape the new DADT? It sure is in the Coast Guard

repost from

Melissa, United States Air Force

I am writing regarding an incident on the Open Guard USCG Facebook group page on July 26, 2012. A Coast Guard reserve member within the LGB community felt safe enough with Open Guard USCG to come out as a rape survivor. She expressed how she felt her rape was mishandled because of her sexual orientation. What followed was several other women both Active Duty and Veterans stated that they too been victims of sexual violence while serving in the US Coast Guard. The thread became an educational, supportive and healing medium for many within the group. Sadly it was all put to an end after Mark Dietrich, a Coast Guard officer and a moderator for Open Guard USCG, felt that suffering from rape because of one’s sexual orientation is “off topic”.

A Coast Guard member responded by saying, “Thank again for reminding me that I have no place in the Coast Guard even in the LGBT Open Guard” and a Coast Guard veteran also responded by saying, “I thought this group was to support each other as shipmates to improve the Coast Guard for future generations?” These two comments were determined to be criticizing the Coast Guard and negative so therefore every woman that reported that they been sexually abused because of her sexual orientation was barred from participating in Open Guard USCG. This is super concerning, particularly coming from a gay-oriented group that not too long ago had suffered the same oppression that rape survivors today are suffering: to keep it to your self.  The Military Rape Crisis Center a nationwide advocacy and support group for Military Sexual Assault survivors estimates that 92% of all that report a sex crime in the Coast Guard are kicked out of service. Rape has become the new DADT.

While we have rightfully earned our rights to celebrate our accomplishments for repealing DADT, the fight is not over. We have to continue working on getting equality until all service members feel safe to open up to who they truly are. Sadly, homophobia is still very present in the United States Coast Guard and these Coast Guard members are at times using sexual violence as their weapon of choice to promote their hateful agenda. While the United States Coast Guard is not required like the four other branches of service to release their sexual assault data, the Military Rape Crisis Center reports that a disproportion numbers of Coast Guard Active Duty and Reserve members are seeking services through them. Some of these survivors are members of the LGB community that feel that their sexual orientation were the reason they have been victimized or that the investigation focus was primarily on their sexual orientation and not the felony that took place.

I am a survivor of sexual assault while serving in the United States Armed Forces. My rapist, an O-6, knew that he was able to get away with raping me because I am a lesbian. He was right. He was never prosecuted despite enough forensic evidence that shows a rape has been committed. Corrective rape in his eyes was the right thing to do for his God. He saw nothing wrong with what he did. He is still serving. I lost my very promising career.

As a member of several Active Duty, Veterans and civilians group for the LGBTQIA community, Open Guard USCG is the only group that I am aware of that is not actively working to eliminate sexual violence within members of this community. While I do believe that Open Guard USCG or a similar organization might be viewed as helpful to connect LGB members service wide Open Guard USCG’s blatant backwardness, hypocrisy and systemic silent the victim rape culture is something that cannot be overlooked. I welcome an open dialogue on this important issue.

Until Open Guard USCG is open to diversity and is inclusive of all members of the United States Coast Guard, including those that been victims of sexual assault or rape, I recommend that members of the United States Coast Guard think twice before associating themselves with Open Guard and it board members. I also request the leadership within the United States Coast Guard stop the Coast Guard’s affiliation with the group, including listing them as a resource on diversity page, until Open Guard is open to discuss the sexual assault and rape epidemic in the United States Coast Guard and how it affects members of the LGB community.

Open Guard’s mission statements states: “Open Guard is a Coast Guard centric support group for gay, lesbian and bisexual Coast Guard members, active duty and retired, and their families and friends” and I believe that this should include those that feel that they have been retaliated by use of sexual violence for coming out.

Resources for military rape survivors:

Military Rape Crisis Center


Protect our Defenders

My Duty to Speak

Coast Guard Lieutenant call women in the Coast Guard “skanky” and feels that rape survivors do not deserve an investigation.

Donna Moore, United States Coast Guard family member

I work as a rape crisis counselor at a University with a large population of students that are also veterans. Currently a third of my caseload are veterans with military sexual trauma that are adjusting to life as students and as rape victims. My military background includes two brothers that joined the Coast Guard. My older brother is an alumnus of the Coast Guard Academy and currently a Coast Guard Lieutenant. My younger brother left the Coast Guard several years ago after 4 years as an enlisted personnel. He is now a police officer.

I printed out some of the Coast Guard stories on this page and showed them to my brothers. I was taken aback by how little they cared and even made excuses for the rapists.  My younger brother said that there are two sides to every story and that we were only getting one side. I disagree. I feel that rape is black and white. You either raped somebody or you didn’t. There isn’t that gray area where one might think it is rape and one might not.  My older brother told me that some women in the Coast Guard are skanky and put themselves in situations that are going to get them raped. He admitted that there had been numerous women under his command that were too skanky that he wouldn’t waste CGI money or resources to investigate their rape claims and that it is easier to approve their separation from service.  I was in shock when I heard all of this.  I have a third brother who is not part of the Coast Guard that felt sympathetic to the Coast Guard members posting their rape stories on here.

I like to think that our parents raised us to respect all people including women. I do not know where their attitudes against women that are raped come from. I am ashamed by what they said.

 I want to thank Panayiota Bertzikis for starting this blog. I think it speaks highly of her to put everything on the line to help her shipmates regain their voice. My brothers and all in the Coast Guard need to follow Panayiota’s leadership to eliminate rape in the Coast Guard. I have referred all of my veteran students to this blog and used some of the stories as learning tools for my colleagues that might not be familiar with military sexual trauma. It is never the victim’s fault for being raped.

My Duty to Speak

Coast Guardsman raped, ignored.

Amanda, United States Coast Guard

March 15, 2012 I was awaken by a Coast Guard Ensign that had one hand over my mouth and one hand playing with my clitoris. I could not scream and I struggled to get away from him hitting my head on the top rack. After what seemed like forever he left but not before telling me that I should report it. I reported it anyway and went up my chain but not one person felt that I was acting like a victim enough to investigate it. I went outside of my chain and called CGI and a Chaplin on my own. Neither returned my phone calls. Now I am fighting an admin. discharge. What should I do?

My Duty to Speak

Coast Guardswoman raped, beaten May 2012.

Anonymous, United States Coast Guard

I was raped in May of this year. My rapist and I were both drinking. I am 20 years old and he is 19. I woke up naked and in a lot of pain in my shipmate’s room. There was a used condom on the floor. I asked my rapist if we had sex and he said yes. I went back to my room and looked in the mirror and saw my black eye.  I also had bite marks on my neck and scratches on my arms and neck. On my stomach it looked like a knife was used to carve out symbols.  I broke down in tears and called a friend. I was off duty that day. Later that day I started puking and felt very weak. I am not sure if it was related to the rape but it was certainly much more than just a hangover. My friend took me to the doctor in town that asked about my injuries. I told her that I was not sure how I got them. I told the doctor that I drank a bit too much and that I don’t remember. She questioned me about my drinking. When she found out that I only had two beers I was tested for roofie which came back positive. I also had an entire rape kit done. I was given the morning after pill which only made my vomiting much worst.

I do not exactly know what happened. I was slipped a roofie. While I was passed out my own shipmate not only raped me but physically assaulted me as his personal punching bag and etching canvas.

I reported the rape to the Officer in Charge, a Senior Chief, and he immediately wrote me up for under age drinking. I was threatened with a Captain Mast if I chose to go forward with reporting the rape. I still live next door to the man that raped me. There is nothing that can be done about it.

My Duty to Speak

Wall of Shame: United States Coast Guard Shawn M. Wren

Shawn Wren was hired by the United States Coast Guard to assist all sexual assault and rape survivors and also to develop training programs to prevent sexual assaults in the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, many survivors feel that she failed in her position.

Rape survivors came forward that phone calls to Shawn Wren has not been answered during time of crisis. Several service providers, including staff from the Military Rape Crisis Center reported that multiple attempts to work with Shawn Wren to improve the sexual assault response program has been denied. Shawn Wren chose to not work with service providers that are on the field helping Coast Guard rape survivors 24/7.

Shawn Wren ignored multiple requests from the taxpayers. Over 580 people signed an online petition requesting an immediate investigation against a Chief for his role in a rape. Shawn Wren ignored the 580+ requests and chose to not advocate on behalf of the rape survivor to receive justice. The rape survivor was never interviewed for an investigation against the Chief. The Chief is still serving even after two Coast Guardswomen came forward with allegations against the Chief.

Shawn Wren allowed further victimization of rape survivors including verbal abuse against women that came forward with rape, kicking out rape survivors from the service and even knowingly were aware of at least one rape survivor that is banned from entering a Coast Guard base even after being invited back in. In all those incidents she chose to not get involved to help the survivor

Shawn Wren allowed the following victim-blaming act to be committed by members of the United States Coast Guard:

1. Shawn Wren was aware of rape survivors being called “crazy”, “liars”, or told that they deserve to be raped by members of the United States Coast Guard. Shawn Wren chose to not advocate for the multiple rape survivors or even contact the rape survivor to offer assistance!

2. Shawn Wren was aware of Coast Guard members inviting Coast Guard rape survivors back on to a Coast Guard base for the sole reason to further abuse and humiliate them by banning them from even entering the Coast Guard base! Shawn Wren chose to not advocate for the rape survivors.

3. Shawn Wren was aware of E-6s and above and O-4s and above publicly posting victim-slandering (see 1.) statements on public websites which includes but not limited to, and yahoo answers. Shawn Wren chose to not advocate for the multiple rape survivors.

If the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Coordinator  (SAPR) is not going to be there for rape survivor then who is? The Coast Guard has an epidemic of sexual violence, often said to be much worst than the four other branches of the military. Part of this epidemic is the rape culture that is thriving within the Coast Guard with what seems like zero attempts to prevent it.  Rape survivors should not be verbally abused for coming forward or banned from entering a Coast Guard base because they reported a rape.

Our Coast Guardsmen and women deserve better. For not being there for rape survivors and service providers Shawn Wren is on the My Duty to Speak Wall of Shame.

My Duty to Speak

Military Sexual Trauma Memorial Garden

Panayiota Bertzikis, United States Coast Guard

This is a post that is so difficult to write. This is a post that I wish that I did not have to write. I wish instead that I were standing watch on a 210’. I wish instead that I were working on my qualification to make it as an MST1. Instead I am writing from Scottsdale, Arizona on the eve on the 6th months anniversary of my brutal rape while serving in the United States Coast Guard.

Tomorrow the Military Rape Crisis Center in conjunction with the National Organization of Women, Phoenix/Scottsdale chapter would be unveiling the Military Sexual Trauma Memorial Garden. This first of its kind memorial would be dedicated to all survivors and departed victims of Military Sexual Trauma. I wish that such a memorial was not needed. I wish that women and men could serve their country without being sexually assaulted or raped.  I wish that my shipmates, my comrades, my fellow veterans do not have to suffer the way that I am.

I wish that one-day survivors of rape and sexual assault can report a rape and be believed by their command. I hope that they never know the feeling of being handed your discharge papers because they dared came forward with reporting rape.

I wish that I could say that things get better. I wish that I could say that the pain lessens. I wish that I could say that the nightmares and flashbacks go away. They don’t. Since my rape at Coast Guard Station Burlington, VT six years ago tomorrow the pain of betrayal, the pain of being beaten and raped by a man that I was willing to take a bullet; my shipmate, the pain is still there as much as it was the first day.

The pain won’t go away and for that I have dedicated my life to try to eliminate sexual violence in the United States Coast Guard and within the Department of Defense.  I don’t want my shipmates, my comrades, and my brothers and sisters-in-arms to suffer through in ways that I did. As founder and Director of the Military Rape Crisis Center I wish that such an organization did not exist. I wish that rape in the military were not an issue. Since it is I vow to make sure that I at least give my shipmates the support that is needed after an assault.

Throughout the six-years I have met many strong and brave men and women that also served their country only to find that the biggest enemy was from their fellow soldiers/shipmates. They understand the pain of betrayal. They understand the fear associated with watching the military set free their rapist. Some of these men and women I now consider my best friends, closer than even family. I wish that I had never met these men and women. I wish that they were never raped. I wish tomorrow that a Memorial wouldn’t be dedicated in their honor. I wish that such a Memorial was not needed.

I wish that I can say things improved within the United States Coast Guard and DoD. I wish that I can say that the Coast Guard and DoD are striving to eliminate a culture that allows rapes and later punish the survivor for being raped. I wish that I could say that 6 years later that progress is being made. Progress is not being made. Little, if any, improvement has been made within the military that actually benefit survivors of Military Sexual Trauma.

However, sometimes wishes do come true. I wished for my cries to be heard. It did. For that I am eternally grateful to Congresswoman Jackie Speier (CA-D), Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-D) and for every journalist that dared to touch on the topic of Military Sexual Trauma for listening to survivors and for believing us and in us. For that thank you so much. We all thank you. Thank you for being our voice.

With me I carry a photo of a shipmate of mine. A woman that I first met at basic training and ran into her again after we were both transferred to Coast Guard Boston. This woman at basic training was so full of life and happiness at basic training. When I met her again in Boston pain and sadness took over her. Like me, she too reported a sex crime and was transferred to Coast Guard Boston. She did not make it. At the age of 24 she passed away as a direct result of the crime done to her while serving in the U.S Coast Guard. Her perpetrator was never prosecuted. For her and the many other departed victims and survivors of Military Sexual Trauma, tomorrow on Military Sexual Trauma Awareness Day a memorial would be dedicated in our honor.

The Memorial Garden is in Garfield Garden Park (northwest corner of Garfield and 6th Street in Phoenix). Ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m on May 30, 2012.

My Duty to Speak

Coast Guard member raped, forced to write statement that is being used against other rape survivors.

I reported a rape in the United States Coast Guard. Within 30 minutes of the rape I reported it and was treated immediately at a civilian hospital since my unit was not large enough to have any HS or medics. A rape kit was performed and I left the emergency room after 5 or 6 hours. My duty for the remaining of the weekend was suspended so I could recoup. At that time I felt that the Coast Guard really cared. I was dead wrong.

Since I chose unrestricted reporting I was sent to speak to CGI and they investigated the rape by interviewing me, him and all who were on duty that evening. At first they seemed to care a lot about what happened and told me that they would get this bastard for what he did to me. My shipmates at my small boat station was split. Some sided with him but others who were aware of the previous hostile environment that he showed me sided with me. I caused a war at my duty station.

Due to some backlash from survivors of rape speaking out I was ordered by the SARC to write a statement saying I was treated fairly and have been supported. I wrote such a statement which they are now using without my permission. The SARC is using my statement against Coast Guard rape survivors who are saying that the treatment of rape survivors is subpar. It was never meant to be used in that way. It was only written because at the time I felt that the Coast Guard treated me with respect. That all changed.

After several months CGI dropped the case for reasons of lack of evidence. That was the turning point from when I was treated with respect to when I was treated like a shitbag.  Senior Chief allowed the entire crew to call me names. People that I thought were my friends eventually all turned their back on me. I was kicked several times. My personal belongings were vandalize. I had the word SLUT written across a mirror in my barracks with lipstick. Phone calls were made to my mom telling her that she raised a slut. I became suicidal.

This happened in 2011 and 2012. My story is recent. We need to stop this.