The US Coast Guard apologized Friday for covering up dozens of documented cases of sexual assault and harassment that occurred at the service academy and for failing to properly investigate or punish those accused in dozens of other cases over the span of nearly two decades.
The nature of the incidents, which occurred between 1988 and 2006, was revealed to the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Committee last week during an informal briefing, according to two Democratic senators who sent a letter to the Coast Guard commander Friday, l ‘Admiral Linda L. Fagan, asking for more details.
According to Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington, chair of the panel, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, an internal Coast Guard review called « Operation Fouled Anchor » determined that 62 incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment occurred at the Academy of the Coast Guard of New London, Connecticut, or were committed by cadets in those years.
These cases may be only part of the problem. According to the letter, Coast Guard officials told senators at the briefing that their internal investigation had yielded 42 other cases of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment that were never properly investigated. The letter said officials also revealed what Ms Cantwell and Ms Baldwin called a history of leaders who « discouraged survivors from filing formal complaints or otherwise disclosing their assaults ».
Coast Guard officials acknowledged the internal investigation, conducted between 2014 and 2020, after details of the investigation were reported by CNN on Fridays.
In a statement, a Coast Guard spokesman apologized to the victims, saying that « by failing to take appropriate action at the time of the sexual assaults, the Coast Guard may have further traumatized the victims, delayed access to their care and recovery. » and prevented some cases from being referred to the military justice system for proper accountability ».
But an apology was unlikely to quench the fury simmering on Capitol Hill over the scale of the assaults and the secrecy with which the Coast Guard conducted its internal investigation of them, both of which Ms. Cantwell and Ms. Baldwin said in their letter were “disturbing.”
Among the more troubling revelations cited was the lack of disciplinary action against perpetrators of sexual assaults. At least two senior officers found responsible for those offenses were allowed to retire on full pensions and unadulterated access to veterans’ benefits, which they still maintain. Senators also expressed outrage that those two officers had been recommended to the Senate for promotions while under investigation, while the charges against them were never disclosed.
« It is unclear how many other officers have filed complaints against them, have not been disciplined and have remained in leadership or management positions, » Ms Cantwell and Ms Baldwin wrote.
The Coast Guard also revealed that officials failed to update personnel records of individuals determined to have engaged in assaults and harassment incidents, the senators said, omissions that could have allowed certain individuals to pass background checks that would otherwise they couldn’t cancel.
The senators said some had called the Coast Guard’s failure to disclose the investigation « intentional. »
Congress has examined sexual assault issues in the military for years, recently passing legislation to make prosecution decisions outside the chain of command. The issue flared up again this year, after the Pentagon released statistics showing student-reported assaults at West Point, the Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy rose to record highs in the 2021 academic year.
Coast Guard Academy data was not included in that report; while the Coast Guard is part of the armed forces, it is housed in the Department of Homeland Security.
A Coast Guard spokesman said the service had made « major improvements » in how officials investigate sexual assault reports in recent years and was « building a culture to prevent sexual assault and harassment. »