Coast Guard Academy official resigns ahead of sexual assault hearing

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

Shannon Norenberg, who served as sexual assault response coordinator at the Coast Guard Academy since 2013, wrote in a blog post about her activities in 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 and alleged instances of sexual misconduct by at least 43 academy employees.

Norenberg, now a whistleblower, said she was first drawn into the cover-up in 2018 when someone in her chain of command asked her to go to Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C. She described the first meeting as “secret and highly unusual” because Coast Guard officials placed “a particular emphasis on the importance of confidentiality.”

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

“The Coast Guard made me violate a tenet of my profession, which is to never lie to victims,” ​​Norenberg wrote. “Although I did not know what I was doing at the time, I cannot allow that to happen. The least I can offer as an apology to the victims I deceived is to tell them the truth and ask Congress to finally compensate those victims.”

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

Norenberg claims she was instructed not to give victims the documents needed to report sexual assault, which would have forced her to upload them to the military’s sexual assault database. This, she wrote, would have led to a sharp increase in reported sexual assaults that would eventually have been reported to Congress.

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

During her meetings with victims in the Operation Fouled Anchor case, Norenberg said she and other Coast Guard officials intentionally did not provide victims with anything in writing to conceal the existence of the report.

Norenberg’s resignation comes as Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan is scheduled to testify before the Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday, June 11. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Richard Blumenthal (Democrat of Connecticut) and ranking member Ron Johnson (Republican of Wisconsin) sent Fagan a letter on May 1 urging the Coast Guard to provide the documents more quickly after receiving only a small portion of heavily redacted and duplicated documents.

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

Fagan’s recommendations in the subsequent review included creating a prevention program modeled on the Department of Defense and increasing oversight of the Coast Guard Academy. Fagan, the first woman to lead a branch of the U.S. military, told lawmakers last July that senior Coast Guard leaders must begin by rebuilding trust within the unit.

“It is clear to me that in some areas we have a culture that is permissive of sexual assault, harassment, bullying and retaliation and that is inconsistent with our core values,” Fagan told MPs.

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 his thesis was on international ethics and atrocity prevention. He can be found on Twitter at @zamoneperez.