A Coast Guard cutter. (U.S. Coast Guard photo).

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s sexual assault response coordinator posted a fiery public statement accusing senior service leaders of sabotaging the school’s reporting of sexual assaults. In a statement posted to her personal blog, Shannon Norenberg said she resigned from her position recently when she came to believe that Coast Guard officials were deceiving her into preventing sexual assaults from being reported, thus withholding veterans benefits to survivors.

“The Coast Guard lied to me,” Norenberg wrote in a statement announcing her resignation.. “Worse than that, they used me to lie to victims, used me to silence victims, and used me in a coordinated effort to discourage victims of sexual assault at the Academy from speaking to Congress about their assaults and about the Coast Guard’s investigation of their cases.”

Norenberg said officials pulled her into a large-scale attempt by school officials to cover up sexual assaults at the Coast Guard Academy.

The resignation of the academy’s top officials is the latest in a string of public body blows the service’s leadership has taken on handling of sexual assault in the ranks, that includes congressional hearings Tuesday, a widely circulated internal Coast Guard email with accusations of wide-spread wrong doing and the release of a letter from a Marine Corps-focused group accusing the service of “fostering a permissive culture of harassment and abuse.”

Congressional hearing

Norenberg’s public resignation comes just as the U.S. Senate held hearings on misconduct around sexual assault cover-ups in the Coast Guard. At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) said that nearly 40 whistleblowers had told the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in recent months that sexual assaults remain a serious problem in the Coast Guard.

Lawmakers have found a document accompanying a memorandum arguing that Coast Guard investigations into sexual assaults dubbed Operation Fouled Anchor should not be revealed to the public, said Blumenthal, chair of the subcommittee.

“Our investigation has shown a deep moral rot within the Coast Guard now – one that prioritizes cronyism over accountability; silence over survivors,” Blumenthal said.

Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

He also described Norenberg’s allegations, which were sent to the subcommittee, as the most “concisely damning” statement that he has seen during his 13 years in the Senate.

Whistleblower email

Norenberg’s blog comes about a month after, an anonymous whistleblower sent an anonymous email to the entire Coast Guard on May 15 detailing numerous alleged incidents of misconduct at the Coast Guard’s District 8, Sector Mobile, including sexual assault, harassment, blackmail, revenge pornography, and retaliation.

After the email was deleted from Coast Guard servers, it was posted on Facebook by the anonymous user Whistler McGee, prompting a tremendous outpouring from others on social media who said they had similar experiences.

In a tense exchange on Tuesday, Blumenthal asked Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda L. Fagan what the Coast Guard will do to help the veterans contacted as part of Operation Fouled Anchor receive military sexual trauma veterans benefits.

Coast Guard Cutter 2024
A U.S. Coast Guard Coast Guard cutter returning to home port. (Senior Chief Petty Officer Charly Tautfest/U.S. Coast Guard)

Fagan responded she cannot take any action while the Inspector General’s office is looking into Norenberg’s allegations, but she will make sure that any veteran entitled to benefits will get them. She was unable to say when the investigation will be completed.

“In the meantime, survivors are denied medical care, without any justification,” Blumenthal said. “I find that absolutely untenable and intolerable, and I think it will impact morale within the Coast Guard. The IG investigation, I submit, respectfully, cannot be used as a shield for inaction.

‘Apology tour’ and conflicting orders

Norenberg wrote that she became the Coast Guard Academy’s first full-time sexual assault response coordinator in 2013. Five years later, she was told that the academy had uncovered dozens of cases of sexual assault as part of Operation Fouled Anchor. She would be part of an effort to speak with and apologize to the sexual assault survivors.

She was told that she and others from the Coast Guard would go on an “apology tour,” in which they would offer resources to sexual assault survivors to help them heal along with an “Official Expression of Regret,” Norenberg wrote in her statement, which was first reported on by The Hill.

Initially, she wrote, she was given a “talking points” document that said she would provide survivors a Victim Reporting Preference Statement, officially known as CG-6095, to file an unrestricted report that would be entered into the Defense Sexual Assault Incident Database. The form also helps survivors access Military Sexual Trauma, or MST, benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This form is so important that I always make sure to offer cadet victims of sexual trauma who are separating from the Academy following their assaults a CG-6095,” Norenberg wrote. “Even when they don’t want to report and sign the form I tell them, ‘you may want to report and sign this CG-6095, because this is your proof you reported assault to the Coast Guard, and it can be used to determine disability and to obtain services for military sexual trauma from the VA.’”

But before her first meeting with the survivors, a senior Coast Guard employee told Norenberg that she was not to give the form to any of them, her attorney Ryan Melogy told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.

“This instruction was given verbally and it was in opposition to what was stated in the Talking Points document, which said that Shannon was supposed to give all victims a 6095,” Melogy said.

Norenberg felt uncomfortable at not giving the form to the roughly 30 sexual assault survivors with whom she met, especially since she assumed that no one else had given them the form either.

“I ended up having to advise the victims to go on their own to visit their local Veterans Affairs office for MST assistance,” she wrote. “We offered the victims zero assistance in accessing this critical support.”

In fact, the Coast Guard gave the survivors nothing in writing, and Norenberg wrote she now believes that was done deliberately.

At the time, she did not suspect that the Coast Guard was trying to hide Operation Fouled Anchor from lawmakers. The talking points document that she had been given said that members of Congress, their staff, and the Department of Homeland Security had been briefed on the general outline of the investigation, what it found, and what disposition decisions were made.

Hidden from the public

When CNN first reported last year that the Coast Guard had kept Operation Fouled Anchor secret from Congress for years, Norenberg surmised that she had been part of an effort to keep the investigation secret from the public. She now believes that the reason why the sexual assault survivors were not provided with reporting forms was so that their cases would not be added to the database and attract the attention of Congress.

“To prevent Operation Fouled Anchor from being discovered by Congress, Coast Guard leaders deliberately withheld VA military sexual trauma benefits and services from the survivors we were sent around to meet with,” Norenberg wrote. “Worse, we offered them absolutely nothing to replace those lost benefits and services. We just left the victims to fend for themselves.”

Norenberg offered an apology to all the sexual assault survivors she spoke and met with, adding that she was sexually assaulted while in the Army and she feels their pain.

“To the leaders of the U.S. Congress: I ask you, ‘Will you hold the Coast Guard accountable for Operation Fouled Anchor, and for so many other terrible responses to sexual assault within the U.S. Coast Guard?’ she wrote. “Will you finally push for real and fundamental change?”

On Tuesday, the Coast Guard provided Task & Purpose with a statement saying that after Operation Fouled Anchor’s individual investigations concluded, a team of specialists offered to debrief survivors on the investigations’ findings and make sure they were aware of support services that were available.

“At the time of the initial preparations for those meetings, Congressional briefings regarding the Operation were being contemplated, which was reflected in the talking points developed for the meetings,” the Coast Guard said. “However, the meetings took place approximately 10 months after the talking points were developed and Congressional notifications had not been made. A former member present at each of those meetings reports that the issue of Congressional notification was not addressed with any of the victims. Furthermore, the Coast Guard is not aware of anyone telling members of that team to lie regarding any aspect of Operation Fouled Anchor.”

Since becoming aware of Norenberg’s comments, the Coast Guard has contacted the Department of Homeland Security Officer of Inspector General, which the Coast Guard will look into the allegations as part of its inquiry into Operation Fouled Anchor, the Coast Guard said.

As for the social media posts by Whistler McGee and others, the Coast Guard said it cannot guarantee it will see or be able to act on all posts and other forms of informal communications. The best way for people to get help is through resources such as the The DoD Safe Helpline Chat Room; Military Sexual Trauma (MST) | Veterans Affairs (va.gov); making restricted or unrestricted reports with their local SARC or Victim Advocate Program Specialist; contacting one of these Coast Guard Investigative Service regional offices; or submitting a report online.

Call for action

In response to both Norenberg’s blog and the Whistler McGee Facebook post, the advocacy group Not In My Marine Corps is calling on Congress to launch an independent review of the Coast Guard’s command climate and culture.

The group, which is dedicated to preventing sexual harassment and assault within the military, also wants the Coast Guard to launch an independent investigation into District 8 and Sector Mobile.

“Following a series of reports on how sexual assaults have been handled at the USCG Academy, investigations have uncovered a ‘years-long, extensive coverup of sexual abuse allegations’ by senior members of USCG leadership, fostering a permissive culture of harassment and abuse,” the group wrote in a letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “Consequently, multiple leaders, including a USCG chaplain, have been dismissed or suspended.”

In its letter to lawmakers, the group also calls for former Coast Guard leaders who have since retired be recalled to active duty and face disciplinary measures for any roles they had in covering up sexual assaults.

“Coast Guard leadership has previously avoided inquiry, with attention on sexual assault numbers and responses primarily directed at the larger U.S. military services,” the group wrote. “We must ensure accountability does not elude them, as they are responsible for the welfare and lives of our service members.”

The latest on Task & Purpose

  • 82nd Airborne paratroopers cut down a 101st flag from an iconic bar on D-Day
  • Navy fires USS Somerset’s commanding officer following investigation
  • Two ex-U.S. soldiers met in Ukraine, then went on ‘international crime spree
  • A combat controller earned a secret Air Force Cross for battle with Russian mercenaries
  • Fort Moore renames five gates for battlefield heroes like Alwyn Cashe

The post Coast Guard Academy official says leaders sabotaged reports of sexual assault appeared first on Task & Purpose.