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Coast Guard sees rise in sexual assault reports

Coast Guard sees rise in sexual assault reports
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Reports of sexual assault are on the rise in the U.S. Coast Guard, according to newly released reports to Congress.

Since 2007 the Coast Guard has struggled with a consistent increase in reported sexual assaults, show internal annual reports posted online this week.

While the number of reported sexual assaults decreased from 248 in fiscal 2018 to 225 in fiscal 2019, sexual harassment allegations rose from 57 to 89 in the same period, according to the fiscal 2019 report.

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The reports do not give a reason for the rise, though Coast Guard leaders have said in the past that it could be an indication that more people are willing to come forward due to greater confidence in the reporting system and victim support.

“The Coast Guard has developed a more nuanced approach to addressing Sexual Assault in coordination with the Department of Defense and external agencies,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said in the report. “The Coast Guard continues to center the lot of its efforts within the Sexual Assault Prevention, Response, and Recovery program on prevention and recovery assistance.”

The latest numbers are similar to those reported among other military branches. Reports of sexual assaults across the military increased by 3 percent in 2019.

The Coast Guard is not included in the Pentagon’s annual report of sexual assaults across the military, nor the yearly sexual assault survey for service academies, as it is not within Defense Department jurisdiction.

The Pentagon does conduct a separate, biannual survey on the Coast Guard Academy, which last year found that nearly half of female cadets, 45 percent, reported sexual harassment. More than 12 percent said they experienced unwanted sexual contact, the highest number since the survey was started more than a decade ago.

The Coast Guard in the last several years has struggled to address sexual assault, harassment, racial discrimination, bullying and holding leadership accountable.

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A damning congressional report released in December 2019 found that leadership in the military branch failed to properly handle bullying and harassment allegations, with retaliatory actions instead taken against those making the claims.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee investigation also suggested that the problem affected service members in the ranks and not just leadership.

The latest Coast Guard report also comes after a review of nearly 2,000 military rape cases found that the military has a “systemic” problem in that it routinely sends sexual assault cases to trial without enough evidence to get a conviction. 

During a three-year review of 1,904 cases, it was found that 1,336 cases, roughly 70 percent, resulted in commanders taking no administrative, nonjudicial or judicial action, according to the report from the Defense Advisory Committee on Investigation, Prosecution, and Defense of Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces.

The committee also found that less than 5 percent of cases resulted in a conviction.