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FBI tackles sexual misconduct within its ranks

WASHINGTON (AP) – Faced with a calculation from #MeToo, FBI says it takes sexual harassment in its ranks seriously, launching 24/7 whistleblower line, doing more to help accusers and taking a stronger stand against officers convicted of misconduct.

The changes follow last year’s Associated Press report which uncovered a slew of allegations of sexual assault and harassment against senior officials who were allowed to quietly avoid discipline and either retire or retire. be transferred even after the allegations have been substantiated.

FBI Deputy Director Paul Abbate told the AP that the office is sending its strongest message that employees who are tempted to engage in acts of sexual misconduct should be afraid, because if they do. say, “we’re coming for them”.

“It’s a strong approach, a drastic change and we really mean it. And it comes from above, ”Abbate said. “The individuals who engage in this type of misconduct are not with the FBI and they certainly shouldn’t have supervisory control over others. Period.”

Among the changes that FBI officials detailed to AP in a series of recent interviews was a 24-hour information line that provides a centralized mechanism for reporting abuse, though they don’t say how many of calls he has received. They also cited a senior management task force to review policies and procedures on harassment and victim support, and faster action to investigate allegations and fire or at least demote employees found guilty of misconduct in order to make sure they have no path to the direction.

To address chronic concerns that the FBI is making it difficult and intimidating for victims to come forward, the office is spreading the word more widely in online and internal communications about where victimized employees can report allegations. And the FBI’s victim services division, which until recently focused on helping victims of federal crimes outside of the office, has extended the same level of support to employee victims of internal misconduct.

Advocates of the fight against sexual abuse have greeted the changes in the office with skepticism, calling them long delays – coming years after the advent of the #MeToo movement – and unlikely to affect lasting change.

“Everyone’s been there, including the military, and the office has managed to skate,” said Jane Turner, a longtime former FBI agent who in 1983 became the first woman appointed to head a resident agency of the FBI.

“Until the FBI charges these people and throws them in jail – or at least out of the FBI – and the message is that you can’t do this, it won’t stop,” said Turner, who now working Whistleblower Center. “It’s going to take a total cultural change.”

FBI officials insist the sexual misconduct allegations represent a narrow snapshot of the workforce of around 35,000 members. But the cases that have been identified – by the PA and also the internal Justice Department watchdog – have revealed accountability gaps and surprisingly bad behavior.

An AP investigation last year found that several senior FBI officials shied away from discipline – transferring or quietly retiring with full benefits – even after allegations of sexual misconduct against them were made. founded.

This includes James Hendricks, the former chief agent of Albany, New York, who allegedly sexually harassed eight subordinates, including asking them to have sex in a conference room. A deputy principal has also retired after being accused of tampering with a drunken colleague in a stairwell.

The incidents add to a class action lawsuit alleging systemic sexual harassment at the FBI’s training academy in Quantico, Virginia.

And last month, the Office of the Inspector General released a new report to AP alleging that a deputy special agent in charge groped a colleague at an after-work event – a sexual assault captured on surveillance video.

“It was disgusting and scary, he touched the same parts of me over and over, so not by accident,” the woman wrote to a friend after the trial and error. “We put up with a lot so as not to shake the boat. “

The heavily drafted report does not identify the agent, but indicates that investigators corroborated allegations that he “engaged in unwanted physical sexual contact with three FBI employees.” The report says an unspecified agency refused to prosecute the official; it is not known if the FBI disciplined him.

The sexual misconduct has also drawn the attention of Congress and advocacy groups, which have called for new whistleblower protections for core FBI employees and for an outside entity to review the office’s disciplinary cases.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional hearing in April that this was a topic that “made my blood boil.”

“There is nothing more important than our people and the way we treat each other,” Wray said. “I tried to make it clear that we are going to have zero tolerance for this kind of activity at any level within the organization.


Mustian reported from New York.

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