Murphy, Blumenthal Introduce Protection for Coast Guard Sexual Abuse Victims

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., speaks with reporters
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Ct., speaks with reporters near the Senate Subway on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy introduced bipartisan legislation Thursday on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., that the two Connecticut Democrats say will help protect survivors of sexual assault and harassment in the United States Coast Guard, including cadets at the academy.

They were joined by U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson, R- Wis., Marsha Blackburn, R- Tenn., Tammy Baldwin, D- Wis., and Katie Britt, R- Ala., in introducing the legislation.

The legislation, known as the Coast Guard Academy Safe-to-Report Act, requires that the Coast Guard implement and enforce a safe-to-report policy.

Under the policy, which the Coast Guard voluntarily established last week, sexual abuse victims in its ranks can no longer be punished for certain minor infractions to the Uniform Code of Military Justice ― which previously punished offenses like drinking and violating curfew even when reporting sexual abuse cases.

Blumenthal said that under the previous rules, survivors were "understandably afraid" to be punished for reporting sexual misconduct.

"This legislation holds the Coast Guard Academy accountable by enshrining safe-to-report policies and ensuring proper protections," he said.

"We are sounding a call to action," he added. " Coast Guard survivors of sexual assault and harassment need and deserve safeguards ― long overdue protections when they come forward against their attackers."

He said recent history shows how at risk Coast Guard members are to sexual harassment and assault.

That history was uncovered in large part last summer, when cable news network CNN revealed the existence of the Coast Guard report "Operation Fouled Anchor," which now-retired Adm. Karl Schultz had covered up. The report detailed decades of rapes and sexual assaults at the academy in New London.

"The Coast Guard Academy spent decades covering up its history of harassment and sexual misconduct," said Murphy. "And it's devastating to think of how many more incidents were unreported for fear of punishment for minor misconduct like breaking curfew or underage drinking."

He said cadets and midshipmen at every other military academy are already protected by a similar "safe-to-report" policy, and Coast Guard members deserve those same protections.

Other military services were required to implement similar policies in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D- 2nd District, last August introduced complementary legislation, the Coast Guard Academy Safe-to-Report Parity Act, to ensure fair treatment between Coast Guard cadets and their military counterparts.

"I am pleased that Sens. Blumenthal and Murphy have joined me in this effort and applaud the Coast Guard for voluntarily adopting the Safe to Report policy," said Courtney, adding he would continue to lead efforts in Congress that ensure protection of cadets.

Additionally, Blumenthal and U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R- Wis., chair and ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations have opened an inquiry into the Coast Guard's mishandling of sexual assault investigations and its failure to disclose the results of its sexual assault investigation to Congress or the public.

In December, the subcommittee held a hearing with current and former cadets who experienced sexual assault, harassment or retaliation at the academy.

Blumenthal has scheduled a news conference for Friday morning in which he is expected to demand answers from the Coast Guard after new documents released this week revealed what his office called "troubling information about the Coast Guard's mishandling of Operation Fouled Anchor."


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