A Third of DHS Law Enforcement Staff Have Experienced Sexual Harassment at Work

A new investigation shows that over a third of employees at law enforcement arms of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) say that they have experienced sexual harassment or sexual misconduct at work — and that officials have been trying to cover it up.

According to documents obtained by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO)10.410 employees responded to an internal survey claiming that they had been subject to sexual harassment at work. This included reading or hearing inappropriate jokes, promises for rewards for sexual activity, and even rape. The survey was completed by approximately 28,000 people. surveyThis means that around a third of respondents, or about 36 percent, have experienced sexual harassment at their workplace.

The survey was completed among employees of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE), Transportation Security Administrations (TSA), and Secret Service. Women make up a small portion of the agencies — at CBP, only 5 percent of the staff are women, according to the draft report.

The survey is part of a report by DHS’s Office of Inspector General that has been in the works for years; a draft of the report was cleared in 2020 but has not been released or finalized. POGO discovered that Joseph V. Cuffari’s advisers were working to hide the sexual misconduct section of the report and to delete parts of it. These cuts have caused the report to be delayed for over a decade.

The fact that officials try to cover up sexual misconduct rates helps to explain why victims fear speaking up, according to the data. Only 22 percent of the victims who were alleged to have been sexually harassed between 2012 and 2018 filed a formal complaint, despite having reported at least 10,000 incidents. About 41 percent of the victims were subject to retaliation, career-wise.

One of the top reasons victims didn’t report harassment was that they didn’t believe that management would be supportive of employees who reported such behaviors. Other major reasons were that they didn’t believe that the employee who harassed or assaulted them would be investigated, or that they were afraid they would face retaliation for reporting the incident.

Indeed, in many cases, DHS didn’t investigate employees who allegedly harassed or assaulted their coworkers, even when the cases led to settlements in court. Jenn Budd (ex-patrol agent for CBP) stated that she was raped in Border Patrol Academy. She told POGO that she was under pressure to not report the assault.

“My experience is not an anomaly,” Budd told POGO. “In general, the agency has an attitude that male agents are to be believed and those who complain about sexual assault or harassment are not.”

“Taken as a whole, detailed evidence in the unfinished sexual misconduct report, as well as cuts from the domestic violence report, create the appearance that the four DHS components — which employ roughly 150,000 federal workers — suffer from a widespread culture of impunity, silencing, and retaliation when dealing with sexual misconduct and domestic violence,” POGO’s Adam Zagorin and Nick Schwellenbach explained.

It’s unclear if DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is aware of the survey’s findings. A spokesperson for Mayorkas told POGO that he “has made it clear to the DHS workforce that sexual harassment and sexual assault will not be tolerated,” and that the agency is taking steps to combat misconduct through “reforms [to] Department policies and employee trainings.”

POGO received a draft of another part of a report that contained several dozen allegations about DHS law enforcement officers engaging in domestic violence. These allegations were supported by investigations. The Office of Inspector General found 35 cases in which the employee was not punished and the officer remained an armed police officer.

The report was published in November 2020. However, POGO obtained an earlier draft which showed that many key parts were removed or modified, including the section that details the number of cases.

The report’s title, which contained the key finding, was also changed. “DHS Has Not Adequately Addressed Law Enforcement Officer Misconduct Related to Domestic Violence” was changed to “DHS Components Have Not Fully Complied with the Department’s Guidelines for Implementing the Lautenberg Amendment,” a law stipulating that only people convicted of domestic violence can’t carry firearms.

Previous reports have shown that racism and sexism are rampant at DHS agencies. 2019 an investigative report found a Facebook group where CBP agents made callous jokes and comments about the deaths of asylum seekers and migrants at the border, using slurs and calling them “subhuman.” Agents also posted vulgar memes, including photoshopped images of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) engaging in oral sex with a migrant and with then-President Donald Trump.

DHS investigatedThe Facebook group allowed agents to remain in their jobs as asylum seekers’ agents and received little discipline.