Bipartisan bill would create sex assault solutions task force for Coast Guard

WASHINGTON — Two female senators, both of whom are also veterans, are reaching across the aisle to try to create a new task force that would combat sexual assault within the U.S. Coast Guard.

Reports of sexual assault within the Coast Guard have risen in recent years, reflecting figures from the military as a whole. In 2018, nearly half of the female cadets at the Coast Guard Academy reported being sexually harassed, and a new investigation found mismanagement of those cases by leadership.

The Pentagon has promised sweeping reforms aimed at reducing the numbers, but those reforms wouldn’t apply to the Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security rather than the Department of Defense.

“They should have the same protections against sexual assault as everyone else in uniform,” Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., said. “It’s my duty to make sure that they are protected as they serve our nation.”

So last month, she and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced the bill to organize the task force, which would recommend policies to improve oversight, ensure sexual assault survivors are heard and hold perpetrators accountable both at the academy and in the fleet.

The senators say that for too long, brass has turned a blind eye to the problem and that it’s time to develop a new culture free of sexual harassment.

“We want to make sure you are in a work environment that is safe and respectful,” Ernst said. “Stay strong, report it. We will help you find those solutions.”

The bill has been sent to committee. No hearings had been scheduled as of Friday.