Since the spring, the Bangor Daily News has been investigating the Maine Army National Guard’s handling of sexual assaults. You can read the three-part investigation, and how we reported it, here.
Here are the highlights.
— Sexual assault and harassment cases within the Maine Army National Guard have sharply risen over the last two years. The National Guard office in charge of investigating sexual assault allegations had never conducted a probe into the Maine Army National Guard until last year. Since then it has launched four investigations, all of which were substantiated.
— Current and former members, both male and female, blame the spike on a broken culture inside the guard that is permissive of sexual harassment and predatory behavior. That culture is driving women out of what is already one of the most male-dominated state guard units in the country, they say.
— The military has policies for reporting and investigating allegations of sexual assault and harassment, but soldiers say they are not always followed.
— The Maine National Guard does not court martial soldiers for violations of the Maine Code of Military Justice, so there’s no path to discharge soldiers dishonorably.
— Soldiers who report a sexual assault must choose between a civilian law enforcement investigation or one conducted internally by the military, forcing a compromise they shouldn’t have to make, experts said.
— Current and former female soldiers said they suffered bullying, smears, perceived indifference from leadership, secretive investigations and other negative repercussions after they reported fellow soldiers for sexual assault and harassment.
— Women sometimes feel more harshly punished after coming forward than the men they reported. One woman was threatened with criminal charges for checking the personnel file of superior she reported for sexual harassment and bullying because the guard wouldn’t tell her whether he was still in the organization.
— The physical and psychological trauma from a sexual assault can have devastating consequences on a survivor’s personal and professional life. Some women felt like the guard was indifferent to their plight or offered little help when they asked for it.
— There is little oversight of how the Maine National Guard handles sexual assault and harassment. The guard is a hybrid state and federal entity, and the Maine Legislature has done little to address the problem over the last decade. The Department of Defense agency responsible for coordinating between state guard units and the larger U.S. military also has little power.
— In 2013, the Legislature asked for a report from the Maine National Guard on its handling of sexual assault cases. The guard delivered it, but no action was taken in response until last year, when a freshman lawmaker submitted a bill asking the guard to deliver an updated report by March 2022 in hopes of spurring legislative action and oversight.
— Across the country, state guard units have been under investigation and had leaders removed because of scandals involving the handling of sexual assault and harassment in recent years.
— Some of those states have taken steps to fix the problem, including more training, transparency and oversight.
— At the federal level, a scathing report published this summer determined the U.S. military leadership had lost the trust of the rank and file in its handling of sexual assault and harassment. Congress and the Department of Defense are now moving to implement many of the report’s recommendations.
— Here’s a behind-the scenes look