Cantwell, Chair of the Committee, voiced her strong indignation over the Coast Guard’s inaction, lack of accountability, and absence of transparency in stopping sexual assault. She demanded an Inspector General (IG) investigation to shed light on these disturbing reports.
“The issue at hand is not just disheartening, but also infuriating, frustrating, and unacceptable,” said Cantwell in an email sent to gCaptain after the hearing. “The Coast Guard’s failure to inform the Senate Committee about the ongoing investigation into sexual abuse and assault within its ranks is a gross oversight.”
“Admiral Fagan and Master Chief Jones.. by not taking appropriate action to address past sexual misconduct at the Coast Guard Academy, the Coast Guard failed to protect its most valuable asset: its people. Cadets entering the Coast Guard Academy commit to making great sacrifices in the service of their country and humanity,” said Senator Ted Cruz at the hearing. “And yet, when the worst happened to them, the Coast Guard did not return that commitment.”
Earlier this month, Senators Cantwell and Tammy Baldwin, Chair of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries, Climate Change and Manufacturing, which oversees the Coast Guard, sought answers and accountability from the Coast Guard for the mishandling of a previously undisclosed, years-long investigation into sexual assault and harassment allegations associated with the Coast Guard Academy called Operation Fouled Anchor.
The Committee was briefed by the Coast Guard following a request for information by CNN investigative reporters. This briefing revealed that the Coast Guard leadership had kept the findings of a probe that uncovered a history of rapes, assaults, and other serious misconduct at the US Coast Guard Academy from the late 1980s to 2006 under wraps. The draft report from the probe, reviewed exclusively by CNN, concluded that the academy leadership was more concerned about protecting its reputation than the well-being of the victims.
Despite the damning findings, the probe was quietly closed, and Congress was only briefed about the secret investigation after inquiries from CNN.
“The Coast Guard’s failure to disclose the investigation to Congress is a clear example of gross mismanagement,” said Cantwell. “It is precisely this type of situation that congressional oversight is designed to prevent.”
Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan admitted to the Committee’s failure to disclose the investigation in 2020. In response, she has initiated a 90-day transparency and accountability review to understand the cultural aspects that allowed this to occur. She committed to regularly reporting on the progress of this review to the Committee.
Admiral Fagan, the first woman to lead any branch of the military, acknowledged that the Coast Guard Academy of today is very different from what it was in the 1980s. She highlighted the increased diversity and improved policies and access to reporting care, but admitted that there is still work to be done.
Senator Cantwell has been a strong advocate for accountability for sexual assaults at military academies, including taking strong action in the wake of the Midshipman X scandal at the US Merchant Marine Academy. In 2021, following maritime allegations of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment made by midshipmen at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), Senator Cantwell demanded answers and accountability from the Maritime Administration (MARAD).
In the most recent Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022, she included significant provisions to improve oversight and investigations of sexual assault in the maritime industry. The Act provides the Coast Guard with the authority to revoke credentials for those who commit crimes, establishes a process for reporting, and strengthens policies to ensure victims are provided care as soon as possible. It also expands penalties for failure to report a sexual assault or harassment at sea from $5,000 to $50,000 per violation.
Yet, despite this legislation and demands for accountability, it is two years after Midshipman X’s report rocked the maritime industry, and there have still been no arrests made in her case.
The recent revelations about the Coast Guard’s handling of sexual assault allegations at the US Coast Guard Academy and aboard US Merchant Ships show that a lot more work needs to be done before Americans are safe working at sea. Sources familiar with the case say there are a lot more cases the Inspector General (IG) investigation will likely uncover including reports of sexual assaults the US Coast Guard has failed to fully investigate aboard Military Sealift Command ships and MARAD training ships operated by the state maritime academies.
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