Rescuers sometime need rescuing: A victim of sexual assault speaks out

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Cheveresan, a sexual assault survivor, takes a photo with his daughter, Skelah Cheveresan, 8, Feb. 3, 2017. Cheveresan picked his daughter up from elementary school in a Spider-Man costume to make her smile. (Courtesy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Cheveresan)

Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Cheveresan, a sexual assault survivor, takes a photo with his daughter, Skelah Cheveresan, 8, Feb. 3, 2017. Cheveresan picked his daughter up from elementary school in a Spider-Man costume to make her smile. (Courtesy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Cheveresan)

Story by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ashley Johnson

At home and alone in a new city in 2015, Petty Officer 3rd Class Edward Cheveresan loaded a firearm and scrawled a note that would change his life.

“I’m sorry,” the note read. “I’m sorry. I tried to overcome this. I did my best.”

Cheveresan said he lifted the matte black piece of metal to his face, but it malfunctioned; that’s when he knew he needed to get help.

“Fourteen years ago I was sexually assaulted,” said Cheveresan.

Now, he’s a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, working to earn his flight wings at Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Florida, but the path to coming forward about his assault and speaking out took more than a decade, a failed marriage and a suicide attempt.

Before he joined the Coast Guard, Cheveresan was sexually assaulted after a birthday party in 2003. He made the decision to internalize the moment; he suffered anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and a sexual identity crisis. He only told a few people and never made a report.

Cheveresan isn’t alone. In fiscal year 2015, the U.S. military received 6,083 reports of sexual assault involving service members. The Department of Justice estimates 690 out of every 1,000 people don’t report their sexual assault.

This year, Cheveresan decided it was time to tell his story and begin the healing process. He made a report of his sexual assault to the Coast Guard and was assigned a victim advocate.

“Before talking to a victim advocate, it was very hard for me to have any kind of a life,” said Cheveresan. “I felt like I was in a prison of my own. I felt like I was drowning.”

Coast Guard units with more than 50 members are required to recruit and designate two trained victim advocates. The victim advocates are required to maintain a certification through the National Organization for Victim Assistance’s National Advocate Credentialing Program. They are equipped with the knowledge and training to help sexual assault victims through the Coast Guard’s sexual assault response program.

“Once I got to a place of talking about my experience with a victim advocate, there was help for me to start living my life again,” said Cheveresan.

Victim advocates are certified counselors and serve as a conduit between a victim and the resources available to victims. Chief Warrant Officer Ifong Lee was assigned as Cheveresan’s victim advocate, and she proved to be more than a knowledgeable resource. To Cheveresan, she was someone who listened without judgment, and she provided the first step to a better life.

Lee said becoming a victim advocate was worth the long certification process and training hours. She has made lasting friendships and became a stronger leader. Each sexual assault case opened her eyes, she said.

Lee said Cheveresan is brave for reporting and telling his story. “I learned a lot from our conversations,” she added.

Regardless of when a sexual assault occurs, Cheveresan says he wants others to know there’s help, people and resources standing by.

“Whether it happened this morning, or years ago, get the help right now,” said Cheveresan.

Cheveresan waited more than a decade because he was afraid of losing his career in the Coast Guard – a fear that seems long forgotten. Now, he’s considered the “fuel king” at the air station’s fueling depot.

Despite the pungent aroma of fuel that surrounds him, the sight of the Coast Guard helicopter taxiing down the runway brings a smile to Cheveresan’s face. Although they can’t hear him when he says it, he wishes the crew a safe flight anyways. In just a few days, he will receive his basic airman qualification and finally receive the flight wings he’s been working for.

“It doesn’t have to be a life sentence for you,” Cheveresan said. “You can get your hope and your humanity back. You can feel like a person again.”


Safe Helpline 877-995-5247 and www.SafeHelpline.org provides confidential assistance 24/7 for DoD and CG service members.

CG SUPRT (Employee Assistance Program) 1-855-CGSUPRT www.CGSUPRT.com

If you are in immediate danger call 911.

If you are interested in becoming a Coast Guard victim advocate, please reach out to your unit’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.

A list of SARCs can be found at www.uscg.mil/worklife/docs/pdf/SAPR_Contact_Information.pdf

You can click here to find out more about the Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.

For those not in active service, the Veteran’s Crisis Hotline is available at 1-800-273-8255 or by visiting their website at https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

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