May 27, 2015
The rate of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the U.S. Coast Guard is significantly lower than in most other U.S. military services, according to a new RAND Corporation report.
Among the more than 39,000 active-component Coast Guard members, between 180 to 390 experienced one or more criminal sexual assaults in the past year, according to estimates from a large survey of Coast Guard members conducted by RAND. This represents 3 percent of women and 0.3 percent of men in the Coast Guard active component.
The Coast Guard rates of sexual assault are significantly lower than for men and women in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps, even after accounting for demographic and other differences. Rates of past year sexual assaults in the Coast Guard were comparable to Air Force rates.
The findings are from the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study, which surveyed a large number of U.S. service members to ask about sexual assaults, sexual harassment or gender discrimination. The study is one of largest such surveys ever conducted of the U.S. Coast Guard. Findings for the other military services were released earlier this month.
This new report validates the initial findings from the study published in December 2014 and reveals new details about the frequency of criminal sexual assault against U.S. Coast Guard members, the nature and context of those assaults, and how the assaults compare to those reported by members of military services that fall under jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Defense. The report also provides more detail on the nature of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the U.S. Coast Guard, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Among assaults against women in the Coast Guard in the past year, the assailant was another member of the military in 77 percent of all cases. This rate is significantly lower than the proportion of women assaulted by a member of the military across the Department of Defense services (89 percent), although the proportion among sexually assaulted women in the Coast Guard was similar to that of the Air Force.
The rate of sexual assault against Coast Guard men was so low that even with the study's large sample size, too few victims were identified to reliably characterize assaults against men, researchers say.
Among the approximately 7,600 members of the Coast Guard Reserve, the study estimates 40 members were sexually assaulted on or off duty in the past year. This corresponds to a reserve component rate of assault that is not significantly different than the rate found for active-component Coast Guard personnel. Rates of past-year sexual assault for men and women in the Coast Guard Reserve are not significantly different than rates found for Defense Department reserve component members.
The RAND study found that far more Coast Guard members experienced sexual harassment in the past year than experienced sexual assault. An estimated 6 percent of active-component Coast Guard members, or 2,350 members, experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past year.
A higher proportion of women (roughly 1 in 5) than men (1 in 25) had workplace experiences in the past year that, under Coast Guard directives, would be classified as sexual harassment. Men and women in the Coast Guard were less likely than members of the Army, Navy or Marine Corps to be sexually harassed in the past year. However, women in the Coast Guard were more likely to be sexually harassed than Air Force women, even after accounting for differences in age, education and other demographic factors, according to the RAND study.
The substantial majority of active component Coast Guard members who experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination described the perpetrators as members of the military (90 percent). In two-thirds of the incidents that involved a military service member, one or more of the offenders were of higher rank, and more than one-half of the time the offender or offenders included a supervisor or unit leader.
The analysis also indicates that sexual harassment and gender discrimination are strongly associated with sexual assault. Women in the active component who experienced sexual harassment in the past year were significantly more likely to also have been classified as experiencing a sexual assault during the same period. Moreover, 30 percent of Coast Guard women who were sexually assaulted indicated that their assailant had sexually harassed them prior to the assault.
"We find rates of sexual assault in the Coast Guard are low in comparison to most other military services, other than the U.S. Air Force, a difference that is not explained by any of the characteristics of the Coast Guard or its personnel that we have examined," said Andrew Morral, co-leader of the research and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. "Identifying what it is about the Coast Guard and Air Force that can explain their comparatively low rates of sexual assault could lead to improved interventions to reduce sexual assault not just in the military, but in civilian communities and institutions as well."
"While these crimes and violations in the Coast Guard are lower than other military services, these numbers still represent a serious challenge, and indicate there's still a lot of work that needs to be done to understand how best to address these challenging problems. RAND's role was to provide the clarity that could drive change," said Kristie Gore, co-leader of the project and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND.
About 14,000 active-component Coast Guard members and all 7,592 members of the Coast Guard Reserve were invited to participate in the survey. This included all women, all reserve members and 25 percent of active-component men. More than 7,000 responses were received from active-component members, including more than one-half of all Coast Guard women, and about 2,500 responses were received from members of the Coast Guard Reserve.
The study of gender relations in the Coast Guard was included in a congressionally mandated study of gender relations across military services that was sponsored by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The study, "Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military: Volume 3. Estimates for Coast Guard Service Members from the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study," can be found at www.rand.org.
The research was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense intelligence community.