Coast Guard Academy official resigns before sexual assault hearing

by Vern Evans

Ahead of a highly anticipated congressional hearing for Coast Guard leaders this week, a Coast Guard Academy official announced her resignation Sunday, alleging she was directed to lie and discourage sexual assault victims from coming forward.

Shannon Norenberg, who served as the sexual assault response coordinator at the Coast Guard Academy since 2013, wrote in a blog post about her actions as part of the Coast Guard cover-up of a report known as “Operation Fouled Anchor.” The report detailed years of sexual assault and inaction at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy from the late 1980s to 2006, alleging instances of sexual misconduct by at least 43 academy staff.

Norenberg, now a whistleblower, said she was originally pulled into the cover-up in 2018 when a person in her chain of command asked her to go to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. She described the first meeting as “secretive and highly unusual,” as Coast Guard officials put “a unique emphasis on the importance of confidentiality.”

Noremberg claims that the plan, which she said was framed as an “apology tour,” involved officials, including herself, traveling across the country to meet with survivors mentioned in the report.

“The Coast Guard deceived me into violating a basic principle of my profession, which is to never lie to victims,” Norenberg wrote. “Although I did not realize what I was doing at the time, I cannot allow this to stand. The least I can offer as an apology to the victims I misled is to tell them the truth, and to ask Congress to finally make these victims whole.”

The Hill was the first to report on Norenberg’s resignation.

Norenberg alleges she was directed to not give victims the documents needed to report sexual assaults, which would have compelled her to upload them to the military’s sexual assault database. This, she wrote, would have led to a large increase in reported sexual assaults that would eventually be reported to Congress.

Withholding those documents, she wrote, would make it more difficult for victims to receive VA military sexual trauma benefits.

Throughout her time meeting with victims in the Operation Fouled Anchor case, Norenberg said she and other Coast Guard officials deliberately did not provide anything in writing to victims to hide the existence of the report.

Norenberg’s resignation comes as Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan is set to testify Tuesday, June 11, before the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ranking Member Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) sent a letter to Fagan on May 1 demanding the Coast Guard more expediently provide documents after only receiving a small portion of heavily redacted and duplicated documents.

In July, Fagan ordered a 90-day accountability and transparency review of the service’s sexual assault and harassment policies. Fagan started leading the service in June 2022.

Some of Fagan’s recommendations in the subsequent review included the creation of a prevention program modeled after the Defense Department and increased oversight of the Coast Guard Academy. Fagan, who is the first woman to lead a branch of the U.S. military, told lawmakers this past July that senior Coast Guard leaders need to begin to rebuild trust within the service.

“It is clear to me that we’ve got a culture in areas that is permissive and allows sexual assaults, harassment, bullying, retaliation, that is inconsistent with our core values,” Fagan told lawmakers.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a reporter at Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

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