Blackburn’s bill would set safe-to-report sexual assault policies for Coast Guard

U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) recently cosponsored bipartisan legislation to establish a safe-to-report policy within the U.S. Coast Guard to protect survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“Congress has an obligation to protect these young men and women and make these safe-to-report policies permanent,” Sen. Blackburn said on Feb. 22. 

The Coast Guard Academy Safe-to-Report Act, S. 3776, which U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) sponsored on Feb. 8 alongside four other original cosponsors, would require the commandant of the Coast Guard to prescribe regulations that establish a safe-to-report policy that applies to all members of the Coast Guard, including members of the reserve component of the Coast Guard, and cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, according to the bill’s text.

The bill’s introduction follows an investigation launched in December 2023 by the U.S. House Oversight Committee into the Coast Guard’s “mishandling of serious misconduct” that includes sexual assault, racism, and hazing exposed by CNN.

The news network’s reporting revealed the existence of a yearslong investigation that found rapes and other sexual abuse at the Coast Guard Academy had been ignored and, at times, covered up by high-ranking officials. Dubbed “Operation Fouled Anchor,” the internal probe was kept confidential by Coast Guard leaders for years until CNN started an investigation last year.

“After Operation Fouled Anchor revealed a culture of sexual abuse and a systematic suppression of reports of this abuse at the Coast Guard Academy, it’s clear that reforms need to be made,” said Sen. Blackburn. “One of the most immediate actions we can take is to ensure that survivors of this sexual abuse — all of whom were young cadets intent on serving our country — can tell their stories without fear of punishment.”

If enacted, S. 3776 would make the safe-to-report policy a statutory requirement, and align the Coast Guard with other military services that were required to implement similar policies in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Blackburn’s staff.

The bill also would ensure that survivors cannot be punished for certain minor offenses, including drinking and violating curfew, when reporting cases of sexual abuse, the summary says.

Sen. Blumenthal said S. 3776 is a call to action. “Coast Guard survivors of sexual assault and harassment need and deserve safeguards — long overdue protections when they come forward against their attackers,” he said.

Companion legislation is being led by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), who introduced the bipartisan Coast Guard Academy Safe-to-Report Parity Act in August 2023 in the U.S. House of Representatives.