On October 2, 2020, State/OIG released its long-awaited report on the State Department handling of sexual harassment, including sexual assault reports in the agency. The IG reviewed the extent to which employees report sexual harassment, how the agency addresses reports, and the extent that State ensures consistent outcomes for individuals found to have engaged in such harassment.
The report notes that both Acting IG Stephen Akard, and his replacement, Acting IK Matthew Klimow “recused themselves from this review and delegated final clearance authority to Deputy IG Diana Shaw.” It looks like this review as initiated by State/OIG in early 2018. The report says that the issuance of this report was delayed because of “the lapse in OIG’s appropriation that occurred from December 21, 2018, through January 25, 2019, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting operational challenges.” We’re curious what happened to this report after the shutdown in January 2019 and before the pandemic was declared on March 11, 2020.
The Office of Civil Rights’ (S/OCR) response to this IG report is dated August 24, 2020; DGHR’s response is dated September 8, 2020.
Sexual harassment, generally a violation of civil laws, while sexual assault usually a reference to criminal acts (penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape; attempted rape; forcing a victim to perform sexual acts, such as oral sex or penetration of the perpetrator’s body; fondling or unwanted sexual touching.
Within State, per 3 FAM 1711.2 says sexual assault is a form of sexual harassment. Per 3 FAM 1712.2-4, S/OCR has the responsibility for investigating or overseeing investigations of alleged sexual harassment, which may include sexual assault. OIG report notes that it does not generally investigate claims of sexual harassment itself because OCR is specifically designated in the FAM as the responsible entity for investigating alleged sexual harassment. If the allegations rise to the level of a sexual assault, S/OCR will refer the allegations to DS/DO/OSI.
This report is distressing to read, and the underreporting is understandable. Of the 24 cases where misconduct allegations including sexual assaults were substantiated, we don’t know how many were criminally charged. One? None?
(font in blue, lifted from the report)
Office of Civl Rights (S/OCR), Office of Special Investigations (DS/OSI), and Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline Division (GTM/CSD)
- lacks coordination guidance
- lacks inter-operability of reporting systems
- tracking system sucks
- lacks updated supervisory guides
- lacks data on the consistency of investigative and disciplinary processes
- lack timeliness standards
“OIG could not assess the timeliness of sexual harassment cases because the offices did not have timeliness standards. Additionally, lack of reliable and comprehensive data hampers the Department’s ability to effectively oversee and administer efforts to address sexual harassment.”
OCR, OSI, and CSD have individual systems to track and monitor sexual harassment cases, but the systems do not track similar data or share data with each other. For example, each office uses different identification numbers for the cases and different names for the subject’s bureau, office, or post. Additionally, OCR and CSD use different definitions when tracking sexual harassment cases. […] the three systems do not share data among each other and the other offices relevant to the disciplinary process. OCR, OSI, and CSD officials stated that only staff of the individual offices have access to the office’s data system and that the offices do not grant access to each other.
Because the offices lack a mechanism for tracking sexual harassment cases from intake until the final disciplinary action, OIG was not able to determine the length and disciplinary outcomes of all sexual harassment and sexual assault reports to OCR and OSI from 2014 to 2017.
S/OCR investigated just 22% of complaints for possible violations of Department policy
Of the 636 complaints of sexual harassment that OCR received from 2014 to 2017, OCR investigated 142 (22 percent) as possible violations of Department policy.
Top Five Bureaus and Posts With the Highest Number of Sexual Harassment Complaints From 2014 to 2017
- Consular Affairs
- Diplomatic Security
- US Embassy Baghdad, Iraq
- US Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan
- Foreign Service Institute
CA, DS, Embassy Kabul, Chennai Consulate, and the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations represented the five bureaus and posts with the highest number of investigations.
Top Five Sexual Assault Complaints by Regional Bureau From 2014 to 2017
- South and Central Asian Affairs
- European and Eurasian Affairs
- Near Eastern Affairs
- East Asian and Pacific Affairs
- Western Hemisphere Affairs
- African Affairs
Of the 106 complaints received during the relevant time period, 16 were still under investigation; of the 90 investigations OSI had completed, 24 cases (27 percent) had some kind of substantiated misconduct. […] However, this does not mean that 24 cases of sexual assault were confirmed; rather, it means that during the investigation, OSI concluded that some type of misconduct or criminal activity occurred and it was referred it to CSD for possible disciplinary action. In other words, OSI may receive an allegation of sexual assault and, during the investigation, obtain evidence that some other form of misconduct occurred.
Reporting on sexual harassment (63%) and sexual assaults (71%) are up but there are concerns of significant underreporting
According to information obtained by OIG, both through data collection and through interviews with Department employees, reports of sexual harassment increased from 2014 to 2017. OCR officials told OIG that this trend appears to be continuing. Additionally, one employee group expressed concern that sexual harassment is significantly underreported at the Department.
According to OCR data, reports of sexual harassment increased by 63 percent from 2014 to 2017, from 128 reports in 2014 to 209 reports in 2017. An OCR official told OIG that this increase may reflect an increased willingness to report sexual harassment based on an increased focus within the Department on the issue.
Reports of sexual assault have increased as well; OSI data shows a 71 percent increase in the number of reports of sexual assault from 2014 to 2017.
For overseas employees, a bigger challenge
Current and former Department employees interviewed by OIG expressed the belief that, for employees serving overseas, there are no mechanisms in place to hold embassy management accountable for failing to address sexual harassment at post.
According to OCR data, OCR received 636 complaints of sexual harassment from 2014 to 2017. That’s an average of 212 complaints a year. Of the 636 complaints, 441 originated at overseas posts. An average of 147 cases a year.
From the beginning of 2014 until the end of 2017, OSI received 106 reports of alleged sexual assault. […] Of the 106 complaints received during the relevant time period, 16 were still under investigation; of the 90 investigations OSI had completed, 24 cases (27 percent) had some kind of substantiated misconduct.
For cases opened before 2018, OSI did not track substantiated sexual assault allegations as a separate category so OIG could not identify the precise number of sexual assaults.
Underreporting due to lack of confidence in its resolution, fear of retaliation
Based on interviews and the survey of Department employees, OIG identified a number of factors that may contribute to underreporting, including lack of confidence in the Department’s ability to resolve complaints, fear of retaliation, and reluctance to discuss the harassment with others. Of the 154 survey respondents who responded that they experienced or observed sexual harassment within the last 2 years, 73 responded that they did not report the incident to OCR or DS. When asked why they had not reported incidents, of those 73, 25 employees agreed that they did not think that reporting would stop the sexual harassment; 19 employees agreed that they were afraid of retaliation; and 25 employees agreed that they did not want to discuss the incident (see Table 2).
… of the survey participants who experienced or observed sexual harassment but did not report it to OCR or DS, 34 percent stated that they did not do so because they did not think reporting would stop the harassment.
Lack of protection for complainants
Employees who were interviewed and survey respondents stated that another likely cause of underreporting is fear of retaliation. Interviewees told OIG that they do not believe that OCR will protect their identities during the course of the investigation if they do decide to speak out.
According to the FAM, “the Department will seek to protect the identities of the alleged victim and harasser, except as reasonably necessary (for example, to complete an investigation successfully).” 3 FAM 1525.2-1(d). According to OCR’s guidance for harassment inquiries, however, upper-level management (such as CSD) may need to know the victim’s identity in order to assess the disciplinary action. CSD and L/EMP officials told OIG that employees accused of sexual harassment are entitled to procedural due process if CSD proposes discipline. For sexual harassment cases, this means that the accused receive the OCR investigative file that includes all victim and witness statements, including their names; for sexual assault cases, the discipline package includes OSI’s report of investigation.
Employees in interviews also expressed fear that reporting sexual harassment could harm their careers, either through overt retaliation or through the creation of a negative stigma and damage to the reporter’s “corridor reputation.”
One group representing Department employees told OIG that employees who experience sexual harassment are fearful that reporting it will cause their colleagues to view them as “troublemakers.”
Another employee group told OIG that the Foreign Service is a fairly small organization and reporting sexual harassment could give employees a poor reputation that will “follow them to future posts.”
Advised Against Reporting Sexual Harassment
…some Department employees told OIG that they were advised not to report the harassment that they experienced. Four survey respondents who experienced or observed sexual harassment stated that they did not report after being told not to do so.
Intake until Final Action: Length Varied from 139 days to 1,705 days
On average, OIG’s selected cases took 21 months to move from intake to resolution.54 The length of cases varied from 139 days (i.e., almost 5 months) to 1,705 days (i.e., over 4 years)
Final Disciplinary Actions for Selected Cases Ranged from No Action to Suspension
Final disciplinary decisions for OIG’s selected sexual harassment cases ranged from no action to suspension. Although the Department had proposed discipline for 11 of the 20 cases, only 5 resulted in implementation of the disciplinary action.
For example, one case resulted in no action taken after FSGB overturned the Department’s disciplinary decision to issue a Letter of Reprimand. For the three cases resulting in resignations, CSD had decided on either suspensions or separations but ultimately reached negotiated settlements for resignation. One individual retired after receiving CSD’s proposed decision, and another retired as CSD was reviewing the case. According to CSD officials, individuals who retire before a final disciplinary decision do not have the proposal or disciplinary decision included in their official personnel file.
CSD has not updated the Foreign Service supervisory guide since 2004 and the civil service supervisory guide since 2007 to reflect sexual harassment policy changes. The supervisory guides aim to help supervisors and managers identify and address conduct and performance problems. The guides discuss the supervisor’s responsibilities, the disciplinary process, and certain types of misconduct. The guides do not, however, explain that supervisors are required to report allegations or observations of sexual harassment to OCR, although doing so has been a requirement in the FAM since 2010.
State/IG surveyed 2000 randomly selected employees and got a 27% response rate
OIG randomly selected 2,000 Department direct-hire employees who were employed as of October 1, 2018. OIG conducted a pre-test of the survey with 20 of the randomly selected employees. OIG surveyed the remaining 1,980 employees and received “undeliverable” responses from 215 email accounts. A total of 479 employees responded to the survey, accounting for a 27 percent response rate.
Several factors may have affected the response rate: lack of access to Department e-mail during the 5-week lapse in appropriations; the sensitive nature of the subject; and employees being out of the office during the timeframe.4 Additionally, due to limited resources, OIG did not select a sample of respondents to validate their survey responses. OIG’s statistician analyzed the data by reviewing the responses of survey respondents. OIG also interviewed 10 employees who contacted OIG to share their personal experiences with sexual harassment at the Department. Additionally, OIG interviewed employee groups representing Department employees for additional employee perspectives on sexual harassment.
Related posts from 2014-2016:
- First Person: I am a ✂️ FSO who was ✂️ raped in ✂️… Continuing on has been ✂️ incredibly difficult… November 21, 2016
- First Person: I did everything right. I filed a report the next business day … #FSassaultNovember 22, 2016
- Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It? Sept 2016
- Ex-State Dept Employee Settles Housekeeper’s Claim Over Slavery and Rape Sept 2015
- State Dept Security Officer Alleged Sexual Misconduct: Spans 10 Years, 7 Posts Oct 2014
— State OIG (@StateOIG) October 2, 2020