How did the CNN Coast Guard Academy investigation come to be linked?

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Almost a year ago, CNN first reported on a cover-up at the Coast Guard Academy.

That initial report on how the academy kept secret its own review of decades of sexual assault cover-ups still resonates.

This week, Shannon Norenberg, the Coast Guard Academy official responsible for sexual assault prevention, resigned in protest and said the Coast Guard had made her an unwitting accomplice in the cover-up.

“I can no longer in good conscience be part of an organization that would betray me, the victims of sexual assault, and the system I helped create to hold perpetrators in the academy accountable,” Norenberg said in a statement. Watch her appearance on “Anderson Cooper 360°.”

Separately, The first commander of the Coast Guard, Adm. Linda Fagan, is scheduled to testify Tuesday into the Capitol Hill scandal, where she will face a difficult hearing on why current or former leaders have not been held accountable for covering up misconduct.

How is this type of investigative reporting created? A group of CNN Investigates journalists participated, including Melanie Hicken, Blake Ellis, Audrey Ash, Curt Devine and Pamela Brown. I emailed Hicken and Ellis, the reporters who have worked on this story from the beginning. Our conversation below.

WOLF: You’ve been telling the story of the Coast Guard for some time. What was the first thread you pulled on it and how did it develop?

HICKEN and ELLIS: All of our Coast Guard reporting began with a young woman named Hope Hicks, who was a student at another service academy, the United States Merchant Marine Academy. In an anonymous blog post, she wrote about being raped by her boss at sea, prompting a reckoning by the commercial shipping industry.

When we started to research it, we became fascinated by this little-known industry. We spent months talking to merchant seafarers who had been attacked while working on merchant ships and learned more about how the justice process works in the world of commercial shipping – ultimately discovering that many sexual assaults went unpunished and that it all happened under Coast Guard’s Watch. That was the turning point where we started paying attention to the Coast Guard.

Only through these initial reports on the Coast Guard and the maritime industry were we able to finally break the news about the contaminated anchor scandal. It took months to gain trust in sources, obtain key records and conduct sensitive interviews with victims.

04:27 – Source: CNN

She accused her boss of rape. A year later, there is no resolution

WOLF: A key part of this story is Operation Fouled Anchor, a secret internal investigation into the cover-up. Has the Coast Guard admitted to a cover-up?

HICKEN and ELLIS: This story was so interesting to report because Fouled Anchor basically ended up covering up previous cover-ups. An internal investigation confirmed years of sexual assault at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and revealed how victims’ complaints were ignored and sometimes covered up, allowing some perpetrators to rise to senior positions in the Coast Guard and other military establishments.

From our reports, we learned that although the original plan was to tell Congress the truth about it reporting and its damning findings, Coast Guard leaders ultimately decided to bury it – even going so far as to compile a list of the pros and cons of disclosing the information.

The current leader of the Coast Guard apologized to employees and Congress, but was careful not to call the discontinuation of the Fouled Anchor investigation a cover-up.

WOLF: Has any further action been taken on some of these attacks from years ago?

HICKEN and ELLIS: Operation Fouled Anchor itself was launched in 2014 to look into past assaults, when an academy graduate claimed her years-old rape allegations were never investigated and her attacker became a top Air Force officer. Despite credible evidence of assaults dating back to the late 1980s, Fouled Anchor investigators determined that most of the alleged perpetrators were not under investigation at that time.

However, even after cases were reopened during Fouled Anchor, few of the alleged perpetrators were held accountable. The gunman in the case that started Fouled Anchor was the only person to face criminal charges in a court-martial as a result of the investigation, but an appeals court ultimately ruled in his favor and dismissed the charges, finding that the military had missed its window to bring charges because the Guard Przybrzeżna waited almost two decades to investigate the victim’s allegations.

We learned that two other accused perpetrators were discreetly forced to leave the Coast Guard, but in nearly 40 cases the Coast Guard no longer had jurisdiction over the alleged attackers and local and federal criminal laws had long since expired, so no action was taken.

As for what’s happening now, we know that the Coast Guard is currently investigating an officer for sexually harassing and groping a cadet who had enrolled him at the Coast Guard Academy two decades earlier (the officer’s lawyer denies the allegations).

The former cadet raised the allegations during congressional testimony last year, but the Coast Guard didn’t open an investigation until months later after the woman said she had put his name on a promotion list submitted to senators.

Another woman asked Congress to reopen her 2005 rape case, which the Coast Guard said it could not pursue despite findings that he had “consensual” sexual intercourse with her because it was not currently under Coast Guard jurisdiction.

WOLF: There will be a congressional hearing this week. Shannon Norenberg resigned in protest. Has there been any accountability yet at the Coast Guard Academy or Coast Guard?

HICKEN and ELLIS: It appears that the current leader of the Coast Guard, Commander Admiral Linda Fagan, will face many difficult questions during her hearing. For now, she wants the agency to focus on the future and make policy changes that she believes will help prevent sexual assault and provide better support for survivors.

However, many Coast Guard members are frustrated by two main issues: the fact that to date, the leaders who covered up Operation Fouled Anchor have still not been held accountable, and that Fagan does not realize what a serious problem sexual assault continues to be in the service . .

Shannon Norenberg was furious that she was used in what she called a “cruel cover-up” that defrauded both victims and Congress, but she’s also frustrated that nothing has changed at the Coast Guard Academy – claims that the perpetrators still face little accountability.

WOLF: Having been at this for so long, what is it about the Coast Guard Academy that has allowed this type of cover-up culture to develop? Is this an issue specific to the Coast Guard or the academy?

HICKEN and ELLIS: Many of the problems we observed at the Coast Guard Academy and the Coast Guard in general, such as fear of retaliation for speaking out about assaults, lack of accountability for alleged perpetrators, and the boys’ club culture, were very similar to what we heard from members of the U.S. Academy community Merchant Marine when we first started publishing these reports a few years ago.

We also heard from assault survivors across the military who say our country still has a long way to go in combating military sexual assault and trying to heal survivors.

Some members of the organization also told us that because the Coast Guard is not under the Department of Defense, like other military branches, it has historically escaped the same level of scrutiny. Many people hope that maybe this will change, and people who were afraid to speak up will finally feel that they can.

WOLF: At the end of your stories, you provide email addresses and ask for tips on how to investigate. Does this ever turn into stories?

HICKEN and ELLIS: Yes! We received a lot of useful information from tips in response to our stories, and many of the sexual assault survivors we interviewed during our reporting originally contacted us via email with tips ( [email protected] ).

Many current and former Coast Guard employees shared information with us anonymously that significantly influenced our reporting and led to many follow-up stories.

We’re always looking for new story ideas, and a lot of our previous research has come from reader tips, so we welcome your emails!