by Chelsea Donaldson, Supervising Attorney, VA Benefits
Recently, the United States Coast Guard revealed that dozens of incidents of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment took place at its service academy in New London, Connecticut–and all were unreported or ignored. The problem was so rampant that the Coast Guard implemented an internal investigation which was finished in 2020, and yet remains hidden from the public eye. As reported in CT Mirror, the United State Congress called Admiral Linda Fagan, the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, before them for a hearing on July 13, 2023 to try to get answers about this failure of transparency and leadership.
Operation Fouled Anchor and the accompanying scandal of its cover-up is a disappointment, but not a surprise to Connecticut Veterans Legal Center.
The entirety of the legal team work with and represent survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) every single day. These veterans often come to us at the crux of multiple crises, including lack of mental health services, early recovery from substance abuse, and the threat of eviction. We prioritize their care in a multitude of ways, including connecting them with essential mental health services and zealously advocating for MST survivors for whatever they need, be it service-connected compensation, an upgrade to an unjust discharge status, or preservation of their housing. Our staff is trained to lead with compassion, something that many MST survivors did not receive during their service.
Too often, we hear the same story from our clients: they did not report the MST.
“It would have just been covered up.”
“No one would have believed me.”
“I would have been punished for coming forward.”
“How can I report the sexual assault to my commanding officer, when they are the ones who assaulted me?”
It is difficult to refute these statements when the Coast Guard’s handling of Operation Fouled Anchor supports our client’s perception; the military has a massive problem with sexual assault, and they continually have failed to address it. This is not a new problem, nor is this the first time people have spoken publicly. You can read more about this work and from MST survivors in this CT Mirror article first published in 2021.
We have continually called for aggressive reform within the Armed Forces to protect the rights and safety of military sexual trauma survivors who suffer trauma during their service. We reiterate that call now. Soldiers enlist in order to protect and serve; it is only just that the Armed Forces protect and serve in return.
CT Mirror has reported that Senator Chris Murphy has introduced a proposal to “demand further accountability and apply new disclosure standards to Congress through the enactment of spending bills that fund the federal government and the agency that oversees the Coast Guard” which include a report on Fouled Anchor within 90 days and a requirement that all future reports be submitted to Congress within one business day.
Thank you to Senator Murphy for continuing to push for answers. This transparency is one of many important steps to fighting the crisis of sexual assault in the armed forces.