For more than a decade sexual assault and harassment allegedly ran unchecked at the Coast Guard Academy, and when the service finally investigated, the report stayed under wraps. The Coast Guard conducted the investigation starting in 2014, but only notified Congress of their findings in June.
Now members of Congress want answers as to why the Coast Guard failed to disclose their findings, and how the service intends to fix the problem. In a letter dated July 13, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability and Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter to Admiral Linda Fagan, the commandant of the Coast Guard, requesting information and documents related to the investigation, known as “Fouled Anchor.”
“We are profoundly troubled by the Coast Guard’s choice to withhold from Congress and the public — as well as the [Coast Guard Academy] and broader Coast Guard — the Coast Guard’s own findings of the multi-year investigation that uncovered the mishandling of the sexual assault allegations,” the letter said.
At a Senate hearing on the Coast Guard budget Thursday, members of the Senate Commerce Committee expressed outrage that they were never notified about the Fouled Anchor report and called for further investigation.
“An investigation into allegations of sexual assault and sexual violence at the United States Coast Guard Academy uncovered a painful history, but failed to result in any accountability and was not disclosed to this committee for the better part of a decade,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), chairwoman of Oceans, Fisheries, Climate Change and Manufacturing subcommittee, one of the Senate panels that oversees the Coast Guard.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, (D-Wash.), the chairwoman of the full committee, said she planned to request an inspector general’s investigation into the Fouled Anchor report.
“We’re going to get third party involved to make sure that we have the oversight, the evaluation and that Congress has transparency into the situation and what we need to do,” Cantwell said.
Fagan told the committee the service will initiate a 90-day transparency and accountability review to better understand the culture that allowed both the reported assaults and the failure to disclose the findings.
“On June 30, Master Chief Petty Officer [Heath] Jones and I sent a message to the entire Coast Guard workforce acknowledging our failure in articulating the need to act,” Fagan said. “I apologize to each victim, survivor, their loved ones — we failed to provide the safe environment that every member of Coast Guard deserves. I apologize for our failure to notify. Our service and our academy have made much progress — incredible amounts of progress, yet work remains to be done.”
Fagan says the academy and the Coast Guard will put levers in place to ensure a better system of reporting and prosecuting sexual assault and harassment. She said the service will establish a special prosecuting attorney for sexual assault cases, a move Congress already mandated for military service branches under the Department of Defense. The National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal 2022 required each service to appoint a one-star judge advocate general to serve as a special trial counsel.
“We’re not where we need to be despite all of the great work, the establishment of the special prosecuting attorney’s office that we’re standing up this summer to align with the other military services with regard to how sexual assault will be handled — taking it outside of command lines — but we need to continue to move forward,” she said.
The reported assaults took place between 1988 and 2006 and it took another eight years before the Coast Guard initiated an investigation. The investigation itself took five years as the number of cases ballooned from one to 63. The results of the investigation were only released to Congress after a CNN investigation got the report through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“According to the Coast Guard, the previous leadership chose not to pursue investigations into other leaders with knowledge of sex crimes who failed to investigate, and in some cases, failed to prosecute offenders,” Baldwin said.
The report itself concluded the academy failed to support victims, investigations were infrequently carried out, and punishments were often minimal. The academy leadership pursued few criminal investigations and indicated concern for the school’s reputation should any of the findings be made public.
“Academy leadership often failed to undertake sufficient action to ensure a safe environment – particularly for female cadets – and instill a culture intolerant of any form of sexual misconduct; they did not promote and maintain a climate conducive to reporting incidents of sexual assault; and they did not adequately investigate alleged offenses as serious criminal matters and hold perpetrators appropriately accountable,” according to the report.