Coast Guard taking sex allegations seriously

Coast Guard taking sex allegations seriously

The Cleveland court marshal of a Coast Guard Petty Officer on charges he made unlawful sexual contact with a female Coast Guard member may provide a glimpse into how the military is now handling these cases. Various branches of the military have been criticized in the past for not doing enough to discourage unwanted sexual advances from one member to another.

Monday's proceedings were closed, but actually shed some light on the process. One that begins with an article 32, basically a grand jury.

"One of the differences is that in an Article 32 is that the accused and their representative cross examine all the witnesses in a case," said Lt. David Connor.

Another difference from civil court is that after a guilty plea the accused loses the right to remain silent, and is questioned by the judge before sentencing.

But today's case aside, the military process may provide some lessons for a civil legal system that has stumbled badly on handling sex cases.

Specifically the lack of timely testing of rape kits. Military sex abuse victims can make a report of abuse, then choose to have a prosecution or not. They are protected all along the way according to Connor.

"One of the ways we do that is through the special victims counsel who is an active duty judge advocate, so that's the military equivalent of a lawyer and they are assigned to reporting victims to ensure their rights are represented, their privacy is protected and that they understand the legal process they're going through," said Connor.

And that appears to be the lesson in all of this, the victims in all those untested rape kits might have seen more timely testing if an advocate had been looking out for them and pressing their case.

With the recent bad publicity about how the military has handled sexual cases in the past, the fairly open approach here signals at least in the Coast Guard, a change.

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