© 2024 WHRO Public Media
5200 Hampton Boulevard, Norfolk VA 23508
757.889.9400 | info@whro.org
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Coast Guard reports show mishandling of sexual assaults

Coast Guard crew demonstrates air rescue on the Elizabeth River. June 10, 2022. Department of Defense
Coast Guard crew demonstrates air rescue on the Elizabeth River. June 10, 2022. Department of Defense 

Under pressure from Congress, the U.S. Coast Guard released a pair of reports that looked at mishandling of sexual assault cases through the years.

In the “Culture of Respect” report, investigators uncovered decades of cases where allegations of rape and sexual harassment were ignored or not investigated. Perpetrators were allowed to leave the service without facing military justice. The 2015 report was hidden until a copy leaked earlier this year by CNN. 

“If there's never accountability, how are they ever going to earn the trust of their people again?” said Rachel Vanlandingham, a former Air Force Judge Advocate General attorney, and professor at Southwestern Law School, Los Angeles.

The Coast Guard’s issue mirror the issues surrounding the handling of sexual assault cases that have plagued the other service branches. But, in many ways, the Coast Guard seems behind the other services in both policies and public disclosure, Vanlandingham said.

“This is a Coast Guard problem. This is an Air Force problem. This is a U.S. military, national security problem,” Vanlandingham said. “The women in the Coast Guard cannot trust their leadership to keep them safe. They can't trust them to do anything when they actually report sexual assaults.”

Earlier in the year, the Coast Guard released a separate, 2019 investigation, Operation Fouled Anchor, which looked mainly at the handling of sexual assault allegations at the Coast Guard Academy. 

Coast Guard Commandant Adml. Linda Fagan testified before Congress this summer that she was not aware that the reports existed before they were leaked to the public. 

Fagan ordered a 90-day review of Coast Guard policies shows a majority of women still do not believe the service will properly handle allegations of sexual assault and harrassment, and that trust is declining. 

The policy review highlights the recommendations made by the Department of Defense Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military. The report recommends each branch setup an Integrated Primary Prevention Policy Program, but the Coast Guard has not received funding to create the program.

The Coast Guard is the smallest service branch, housed in the Department of Homeland Security. There are roughly 38,000 active duty members of the Coast Guard stationed in Hampton Roads. Norfolk is home to Coast Guard FORCECOM, which is in charge of training and personnel issues for the service.

FORCECOM conducted a review included in the Coast Guard report, which shows the service does not have a consistent set of courses to train officers and enlisted in the sexual assault prevention. 

Steve joined WHRO in 2023 to cover military and veterans. Steve has extensive experience covering the military and working in public media, most recently at KPBS in San Diego, WYIN in Gary, Indiana and WBEZ in Chicago. In the early 2000s, he embedded with members of the Indiana National Guard in Kuwait and Iraq. Steve reports for NPR’s American Homefront Project, a national public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Steve is also on the board of Military Reporters & Editors.

The world changes fast.

Keep up with daily local news from WHRO. Get local news every weekday in your inbox.

Sign-up here.