Coast Guard Review Blasts Service for Failing to Safeguard Members from Sexual Assault, Harassment

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Aerial view of the Coast Guard Academy
An aerial view of the Coast Guard Academy with Hamilton Hall in the center. (USCG photo by David Santos)

A Coast Guard review released Wednesday found that the service failed to live up to its core values when it mishandled sexual assault reports and hid results of investigations into the cases, eroding trust in leaders and causing further psychological harm to victims.

The 90-day review into the Coast Guard's climate and handling of sexual assaults and harassment claims -- ordered in July by Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan -- said service members are "not experiencing the safe, empowering workplace they expect and deserve" and don't trust that they will be protected if they report an incident.

Fagan called for the review following reports by CNN on the service's failure to disclose the results of an investigation called Operation Fouled Anchor, which uncovered 60 substantiated cases of rape, sexual assault and harassment over nearly two decades, and failures by leaders to prosecute suspects for misconduct.

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The authors of the review released Wednesday also found, when hearing from victims as far back as the 1960s, that the failings contributed to "deep-rooted feelings of pain and a loss of trust in the organization."

Such cover-ups and missteps are incongruent with the Coast Guard's values of honor, respect and devotion to duty, they added.

"For so many victims, there are even deeper levels of broken trust: in leaders who failed them in preventing and responding to sexual violence; in a military justice system with antiquated legal definitions of rape; in non-existent support programs for those impacted prior to 2000," wrote the authors, Rear Adm. Miriam Lafferty, John Luce and Command Master Chief Ann Logan.

Most of the alleged perpetrators never were criminally investigated, and some of those who remained in the service went on to become senior officers.

As part of their investigation, the team reviewed Coast Guard reports, documents and programs pertaining to sexual assault and harassment prevention, speaking with service members on Coast Guard culture, training and experiences, and surveying command climate and making recommendations for reform.

They traveled to dozens of installations, interviewed hundreds of service members, received more than 175 written comments and sifted "through a mountain of data" to assess the situation.

"You made it very clear to our team that these failures and lack of accountability are entirely unacceptable, and you let us know the Coast Guard must do something about it," the team wrote in a message to service members in the beginning of the report.

The report found that the Coast Guard made efforts to combat sexual assault and harassment in the ranks over the past two decades, spending money and other resources studying the problem and developing recommendations. But those efforts led only to "incremental improvements" and not to "lasting sustainable change."

The team made new recommendations on improving leadership, accountability, transparency, training, awareness and victim support. Its accountability recommendations, however, did not extend to past cases or officers involved in Operation Fouled Anchor.

Fagan noted in a separate response that the Coast Guard is responding to numerous congressional requests related to the incidents and that the Coast Guard Investigative Service is "conducting additional inquiries as warranted."

The commandant also announced reforms to training, education, victim services and other programs that are to take place within the next year to improve overall response.

"We must ensure that every Coast Guard workplace has a climate that deters harmful behaviors and gives everyone the positive Coast Guard experience they expect and deserve," Fagan wrote.

This week, the Coast Guard posted a copy of a 2015 "Culture of Respect" study on the commandant's website after CNN obtained a copy and published a report on it. The report, which, like the Operation Fouled Anchor investigation, was concealed for nearly a decade, found that the Coast Guard failed to address racism, hazing and discrimination as well as sexual assault in its ranks.

After the release of the report, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., whose state is home to the Coast Guard Academy, questioned how many more "damning" reports the Coast Guard has not made public.

"I am in disbelief that we are once again having a conversation about Coast Guard leadership covering up evidence of pervasive harassment, discrimination, racism, sexism and assault within its organization," Murphy wrote in a release Nov. 30. "This culture of avoidance and cover-up needs to end."

The House Homeland Security Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations has a hearing planned for Dec. 12 on sexual assault and harassment in the Coast Guard.

Ahead of the hearing, K. Denise Rucker Krepp, a former Coast Guard officer and former chief counsel of the Maritime Administration, wrote subcommittee leaders about the report, noting that current Coast Guard leaders refuse "to hold past leaders accountable."

"Past systemic failed leadership destroyed lives and the cancer of failed leadership is destroying the health of today's Coast Guard," Krepp wrote in a letter obtained by Military.com. "Please continue to hold the hearings on the sexual assault that are occurring in the Coast Guard. Please demand that past leaders, including those I served with in the Coast Guard legal community, be held accountable. Please stop the rot."

The witness list for the sexual assault hearing has not been released.

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