Coast Guard public affairs is advising commanders on making more public updates on sexual assault cases as they progress through the justice system, but will not make it mandatory, the service confirmed Aug. 5.
The step is part of the service’s efforts to increase awareness and help counter the rising number of sex assaults in the military; the Navy took a similar step July 22 when it began posting results of all courts-martial in the service, whether or not they involved sexual assaults.
It remains to be seen how many convening authorities will agree to publicize their cases, however.
The Coast Guard began this practice in July, and since then there have been seven sex assault cases that appeared on the docket. Of those, only two have been publicized via news release. In the other five, the convening authorities opted not to do so, after weighing the specifics of each case, chief of public affairs Capt. Tony Hahn said.
“We appreciate the importance of releasing information concerning military justice prosecutions for sexual assault ... but we also must consider the rights as well as any particular concerns of the victims,” he said in a written statement.
In instances where the convening authority agrees to publicize the case, the service willissue news releases throughout the process.
The Coast Guard hopes its own updates will bring transparency to the way sexual assault cases are handled, and gain the trust of service members, said Cmdr. Chris O’Neil, a Coast Guard spokesman.
Public affairs envisions news releases being posted to report a convening Article 32 hearing, whether or not a case proceeds to a court-martial or nonjudicial punishment, when a court-martial starts, when a verdict is issued, and when a sentence is given, O’Neil said.
It will be the role of public affairs to advise convening authorities of the new communication strategy. No alleged victims will be identified in the news releases. Information provided will be part of the public record, but the alleged victim’s concerns will also be taken into consideration.
The first such news release, issued July 2, includes the rank, name and charges faced by a petty officer accused of rape and assault. Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Omar Gomez is scheduled for a Sept. 30 court-martial on allegations he sexually assaulted six Coast Guard women who were his subordinates and allegedly raped a civilian woman.
The service also issued a July 30 release on a Coast Guardsman charged with rape and sexual assault in Alaska. Aviation Maintenance Technician 3rd Class William Bisel faced charges of rape and sexual contact in a July 31 court-martial. An update said the court-martial had been postponed.