The sun shines down, illuminating the American Flag and Airborne patches on a member of the U.S. Army, in Bangor on Thursday. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Editor’s note: This is part of an investigation by the Bangor Daily News into the Maine Army National Guard’s handling of sexual assaults. Read the other stories here.  If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

The anonymous email arrived last winter from a soldier who was concerned about sexual assault and harassment in the Maine Army National Guard.

“This is a rampant problem within our ranks,” the soldier wrote.

Reporters get a lot of tips, but this one seemed intriguing. After a few phone calls, we learned there may be soldiers willing to share documented evidence of how sexual violence — an epidemic that has been well established in the military for decades — was playing out in Maine.

It would take us months of work to confirm the larger story — that a recent spike in sexual assault and harassment cases pointed to a predatory culture within the Maine Army National Guard.

The BDN’s three-part series, “Unguarded,” published Monday through Wednesday (Nov. 15-17), tells the stories of soldiers sexually assaulted and harassed within the ranks while lax enforcement of policies, little oversight, and retaliation against those who complained continued for more than a decade.

We’re sharing behind-the-scenes details of the investigation to be transparent about decisions that shaped the stories.

The series is built on state, federal, military, police and civilian court records documenting instances of alleged sexual assault and harassment, but also includes interviews with guard members — male and female — to create a fuller picture of how the problem persisted.

We generally avoid the use of unnamed sources but will grant anonymity to those who have important information they could not otherwise share. Along with most news organizations, we don’t name victims of sexual assault, unless they agree to speak publicly, even if their names are available in public records.

We granted anonymity to current members of the Maine Army National Guard because they feared repercussions, even if they had not themselves been assaulted or harassed.

Soldiers facing allegations were identified by name after being confirmed through multiple sources, including internal guard reports, court and police records, interviews with witnesses and others familiar with the cases. We interviewed or attempted to reach those named and accused of misconduct.

The initial investigation quickly expanded, with reporters learning of other guardsmen accused of sexual assault and harassment, including two currently facing criminal charges. But no centralized record-keeping system tracks the problem.

We reviewed hundreds of pages of state and federal records that included internal guard investigative reports, official notices and letters, police and court records, military documents, emails and memos. Some were obtained through Maine’s Freedom of Access Act or the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The requests further amplified the lack of transparency within the Maine National Guard, where some requested records never materialized or were found to be missing. It took nearly two months for the Maine Army National Guard to provide details about basic state and federal funding. 

We also interviewed more than 15 current and former guard members, reviewed additional witness statements and spoke to state and federal officials, experts, politicians and others with knowledge about the workings of the national guards.

We also examined how Maine might fix the system. In Part 3, the series examines problems in other state national guards and what those legislatures and Congress are doing to curb sexual assaults and harassment in the military and guard systems.

The reporters concentrated their efforts on the Maine Army National Guard but did not include the Maine Air National Guard, which is a separate entity under the Maine National Guard umbrella.

Some details are still secret. For example, the guard still has not provided the total number of sexual assault allegations reported from 2010 to 2021, nor the number of people who have received sexual assault victim compensation payments, although the BDN requested those details in May. The guard likewise has not provided details of how many women have left the guard in the past 10 years.

To contact the reporting team, email mainefocus@bangordailynews.com.

Two BDN journalists primarily worked on this series: Investigative reporters Callie Ferguson and Josh Keefe. Editing support was provided by Dianna Hunt through the Investigative Editing Corps.

BDN journalists Troy R. Bennett and Sawyer Loftus took photos, as did freelance photographer Garrick Hoffman.

Rosemary Lausier and Christopher Burns designed the stories for the web. Managing Editor Dan MacLeod supervised the project.

Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.