The U.S. Coast Guard apologized on Friday for covering up scores of documented sexual assault and harassment cases that took place at the service’s academy, and failing to properly investigate or discipline those accused in dozens more cases over a span of nearly two decades.
The nature of the incidents, which took place between 1988 and 2006, was disclosed to the Senate Commerce, Justice and Science Committee last week during an informal briefing, according to two Democratic senators who sent a letter on Friday to the Coast Guard’s commandant, Adm. Linda L. Fagan, demanding more details.
According to Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington, the panel’s chairwoman, 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 either took place at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., or were committed by cadets during those years.
Those cases may only be part of the problem. According to the letter, Coast Guard officials told senators during the briefing that their internal inquiry had yielded another 42 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, which was conducted between 2014 and 2020, after details of the inquiry were reported by CNN on Friday.
In a statement, a Coast Guard spokesman apologized to the victims, saying that “by not having taken 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 appropriate accountability.”
But the apology was unlikely to extinguish simmering fury on Capitol Hill about the scope of the assaults and the secrecy with which the Coast Guard carried out its internal inquiry into them, both of which Ms. Cantwell and Ms. Baldwin said in their letter were “disturbing.”
Among the most troubling revelations they cited was a lack of disciplinary action against the perpetrators of sexual assaults. At least two senior officers found to have committed such offenses were allowed to retire with a full pension and unadulterated access to veterans’ benefits, which they still maintain. The senators also expressed outrage that those two officers had been recommended to the Senate for promotions while they were under investigation, while the allegations against them were never disclosed.
“It is unclear how many other officers had substantiated claims against them, were not disciplined, and remained in positions of leadership or management,” Ms. Cantwell and Ms. Baldwin wrote.
The Coast Guard also disclosed that officials failed to update the personnel records of individuals who were determined to have carried out assaults and incidents of harassment, the senators said, omissions that could have allowed certain individuals to pass background checks they might not otherwise have cleared.
The senators said that some had described the Coast Guard’s failure to disclose its investigation as “intentional.”
Congress has been scrutinizing problems of sexual assault in the military services for years, recently passing legislation to take decisions about charging perpetrators out of the chain of command. The issue flared anew this year, after the Pentagon published statistics showing student-reported assaults at West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy rose to record levels in the 2021 academic year.
Data from the Coast Guard Academy was not included in that report; while the Coast Guard is part of the armed forces, it is housed at the Homeland Security Department.
A Coast Guard spokesman said that the service had made “major improvements” in how officials investigate reports of sexual assault in recent years, and is “creating a culture to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment.”