For nearly ten years, a salient report, which revealed prevalent bigotry, hazing, discrimination, and sexual harassment within the ranks of the US Coast Guard, has been systematically kept out of public view.
Produced in 2015, the "Culture of Respect" study narrated a "boys will be boys" attitude and a culture of endurance, with several personnel being afraid of being ostracized and retaliated against for reporting abuse. Moreover, the report found that supervisors frequently dismissed complaints brought forth.
This study's key findings echoed those of another clandestine investigation, codenamed Operation Fouled Anchor, into allegations of rapes and sexual assaults within the Coast Guard’s academy. Further disturbing truths, like high-ranking officials’ attempts to cover-up serious misconduct and the consequent rise of offenders within the ranks, were also disclosed.
Upon the findings of the Fouled Anchor investigation and widespread congressional fury, Linda Fagan, the Coast Guard's commandant, expressed apologies to cadets and the workforce for these transgressions. She affirmed the need for increased transparency with service members, Congress, and the public on such grave issues.
However, the “Culture of Respect” report remained hidden, even under Fagan's leadership. This secrecy remained despite previous requests for its release. Employees and academy cadets within the Coast Guard repeatedly expressed that the problems identified in these studies persist even today.
In response to queries, a spokesperson for Fagan mentioned the commandant's plans to publicly release the report, alongside the findings of a 90-day internal study on sexual assault and harassment within the agency.
The perception that sexual harassment and hazing were acceptable aspects of the culture was among the concerns highlighted in the report. Offenders often avoided responsibility and were permitted to resign, retire, or transfer, occasionally rejoining the Coast Guard in civil service positions. An employee warned in the report, "We are allowing potentially dangerous members back into society with no punishment."
A common concern among victims was that allegations might risk their careers. Victims felt shunned, judged, disbelieved, and unsupported. They pointed out that even seeking mental health treatment could potentially lead to involuntary discharge.
The report cited numerous incidents supporting its findings, including one where multiple witnesses saw a supervisor striking a subordinate, but none came forward due to fear of retribution.
The report concluded that improving the Coast Guard’s culture would require “fundamentally different approaches.” Since then, the Coast Guard claims to have implemented 60 of 129 recommendations partially or fully, with nine more in progress.
However, records indicate that discriminatory behavior often went unpunished. A significant number of female service members complained that reports of sexual harassment were handled with inaction. Some even faced retaliation for their complaints.
Retired Coast Guard Commander Kimberly Young-McLear has been a vocal advocate for the release of this report. Her own experiences were cited in her SWAT report in 2017. Despite her actions, the accused in her case faced no consequences, leaving Young-McLear questioning the secrecy surrounding the 'Culture of Respect' report.
The lack of transparency, reaction to misconduct and accountability within the Coast Guard demonstrates the issues highlighted in these reports and the continued failing of the agency to take responsibility. "If we don’t hold individuals and institutions accountable," Young-McLear stressed, "it is providing a safe haven for abusers and allowing them to rise through the ranks."