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New Bill Targets Coast Guard’s Handling of Sexual Assault Cases

U.S. Coast Guard port state control officers the engine room of a bulk carrier, May 19, 2015. U.S. Coast Guard Photo

New Bill Targets Coast Guard’s Handling of Sexual Assault Cases

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 1758
March 5, 2024

A bipartisan bill has been introduced to enhance accountability and transparency within the U.S. Coast Guard to protect service members against sexual assault and harassment.

The Coast Guard Protection and Accountability Act of 2024 was introduced by the Chairman of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, Daniel Webster (R-FL), and the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member, Salud Carbajal (D-CA). Co-sponsors included Sam Graves (R-MO), the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rick Larsen (D-WA), the committee’s Ranking Member.

The legislation aims to bolster protections for Coast Guard members against sexual assault and harassment and will also ensure a systematic response to these incidents, based on the findings of a Coast Guard’s investigation known as Operation Fouled Anchor (OFA).

Initiated in 2014, Operation Fouled Anchor revealed that the Coast Guard mishandled allegations of rape, assault, and other misconduct at the Coast Guard Academy between 1990 and 2006, resulting in insufficient accountability for perpetrators and inadequate protection for victims. However, despite the Coast Guard’s extension collaboration with Congress on related issues, the Coast Guard did not share the results of OFA with Congress until June 2023 after it was leaked to the media.

In August 2023, a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee investigation into Operation Fouled Anchor revealed inconsistencies and inefficiencies in the U.S. Coast Guard’s handling of sexual misconduct, and that the service’s processes lacked transparency, focus on prevention, and failed to adequately support victims.

In response, Admiral Fagan ordered a review of practices to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment within the Coast Guard. The review recommended increasing focus on prevention and intervention, skills-based training, leadership development, effective use of survey information, and caring for victims. Over 30 actions were directed to implement these recommendations.

The Coast Guard Protection and Accountability Act of 2024 mandates an annual report to Congress on the Coast Guard’s implementation of recommendations from an Accountability and Transparency Review, establishes a Government Accountability Office study on the effectiveness of these actions, and requires the Coast Guard to maintain prosecution-related documents for seven years.

Chairman Webster calls the Coast Guard’s decision not to release the findings of the Operation Fouled Anchor report “deeply troubling.”

“The Coast Guard leadership at that time was imposing higher levels of scrutiny over sexual assault and harassment in the maritime industry, which they regulate, while simultaneously failing to consistently and transparently address sexual misconduct within the Service,” said Webster. “The men and women serving in our Coast Guard, whom we ask so much of, deserve better from their leadership.“

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