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How CNN pieced together its investigation into the cover-up at the Coast Guard Academy

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Investigative reporting by CNN reveals a cover-up scandal at the Coast Guard Academy, where decades of sexual assault cases were kept secret. Shannon Norenberg, the official in charge of sexual assault prevention, resigned in protest, accusing the Coast Guard of making her an unwitting accomplice in the cover-up. This scandal has prompted tough questions for the Coast Guard’s first female commandant, Adm. Linda Fagan, who is set to testify about the issue on Capitol Hill. The reporting was a result of months of work by a team of journalists from CNN Investigates, including Melanie Hicken, Blake Ellis, and others.

The investigation into the Coast Guard story began with a young woman named Hope Hicks, who was a student at the US Merchant Marine Academy. Her story led to the uncovering of sexual assaults in the maritime industry, ultimately linking them to the Coast Guard. Operation Fouled Anchor, an internal probe of cover-ups, revealed years of sexual assault at the Coast Guard Academy, where victims’ complaints were ignored or covered up. The Coast Guard leadership chose to bury the investigation, leading to further questions about accountability and transparency.

Despite Operation Fouled Anchor’s findings, very few perpetrators of past sexual assaults have been held accountable. Some cases from as far back as the late 1980s were not investigated, and even after the probe, few perpetrators faced consequences. The Coast Guard is currently investigating an officer for sexual harassment and groping a cadet, showing that problems with handling sexual assault cases persist within the organization. There are calls for Congress to reopen past cases and hold those responsible accountable.

The upcoming congressional hearing will question Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan about the cover-up scandal and the lack of accountability within the Coast Guard. Shannon Norenberg’s resignation in protest highlights the frustration over the lack of change within the organization. The Coast Guard’s response has focused on policy changes to prevent future assaults but has not addressed the ongoing issue of sexual assault and lack of accountability for past misconduct.

The cover-up culture at the Coast Guard Academy is reflective of broader issues within the military, including fear of retaliation for reporting assaults, lack of accountability for perpetrators, and a male-dominated culture. Similar problems have been seen in other military branches, indicating a systemic issue with handling sexual assault cases. The lack of scrutiny on the Coast Guard, as it does not fall under the Department of Defense, has allowed these issues to persist unchecked. However, there is hope that increased awareness and reporting can lead to positive changes within the organization.

Tips received by the journalists during their investigation have been crucial in uncovering details of the cover-up scandal. Many sexual assault survivors have come forward with information, leading to further investigative stories. The journalists encourage individuals to reach out with tips and story ideas, as previous investigations have been sparked by reader submissions. This approach has been instrumental in shedding light on the systemic issues within the Coast Guard and other military branches.

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