HARTFORD, Conn. — U.S. Coast Guard officials are promising reforms after an internal review sparked by reports of sexual assault and harassment found that “too many” of its members don’t feel safe and trust in leadership is eroding.
The wide-ranging 90-day review, released Wednesday, calls for an end to a “permissive environment” that extends to inappropriate jokes and comments, and a greater focus on preventing “inappropriate or unhealthy behavior” at the earliest stages.
Many of the recommendations in the report stem from interviews with hundreds of Coast Guard members at locations throughout the service, including from victims of sexual assault and harassment dating from the 1960s to the present.
“These victims expressed deep rooted feelings of pain and a loss of trust in the organization,” the report says. “Acknowledging this broken trust is an important first step in reestablishing it.”
The review was ordered by Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, after the service came under fire for not widely disclosing a six-year internal investigation into dozens of cases of sexual assault and harassment at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut from 1988 to 2006.
The investigation, first revealed by CNN, was known as “Operation Fouled Anchor” and identified 62 substantiated incidents of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment that occurred at the New London academy, or by academy cadets.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut and chair of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, criticized the new review in a statement Wednesday, saying it “still does not hold anyone accountable for past failures – particularly those at the Coast Guard Academy.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, also a Democrat from Connecticut, said it was “unacceptable” the report did not recommend accountability measures for that past “misconduct and coverup.”
Murphy said that while it lays out a “modest plan” to improve oversight, training and support for survivors, the report “is nothing more than paper until concrete steps are taken.”
Murphy pointed to recent reporting by CNN that found the Coast Guard had concealed a 2015 report exposing gender and race discrimination, hazing and sexual assault throughout the service. That report warned that a “boys will be boys” attitude “is very much still around.”
“Too many Coast Guard members are not experiencing the safe, empowering workplace they expect and deserve,” the internal report released Wednesday said.
A memorandum from Fagan released with it acknowledges the actions she has ordered to address improper conduct will not impact cases stemming from Operation Fouled Anchor. But the memo said the service is responding to congressional requests concerning those cases while the Coast Guard Investigative Service is conducting additional inquiries.
In the memo, Fagan required specific actions be taken, including “tailored training” to help personnel, “from the newest recruits to senior executives,” cultivate a positive workplace climate. That also includes developing more effective leadership courses and increasing oversight of the cadet corps at the academy.
Fagan ordered plans to be developed by 2025 that expand in-person bystander intervention training and provide sexual assault prevention, response and recovery training for all Coast Guard personnel. She also ordered improved physical security throughout the cadet dormitory at the academy.
“We each must ensure EVERY Coast Guard workplace has a climate that deters harmful behaviors.” Fagan’s memo said.
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