Vermont National Guard reports six sexual assaults in one-year span

Col. Ellen Abbott, chief legal counsel for the Vermont National Guard, and Cameron Wood, an intern in the office of Legislative Council, attend a hearing to discuss a report on sexual assaults in the Guard. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

Col. Ellen Abbott, chief legal counsel for the Vermont National Guard, and Cameron Wood, an intern in the office of Legislative Council, attend a hearing to discuss a report on sexual assaults in the Guard. Photo by Hilary Niles/VTDigger

The Vermont National Guard received six reports of sexual assaults and three reports of sexual harassment in a one-year period, according to the first annual report from the Guard to the Legislature.

The 25-page report is the byproduct of a law passed in 2013 mandating an annual legislative review. Previously, cases of sexual assault and harassment in the Vermont National Guard were not made public.

Sexual assault in the military has received extensive attention recently. The Pentagon has estimated as many as 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012.

Lawmakers from two committees gathered Thursday afternoon in the Statehouse to hear the results of the Vermont Guard study released earlier this month.

Rep. Jean O’Sullivan, D-Burlington, who has pressed for more reporting on assaults from the Vermont National Guard, was pleased with the report.

“It really does, I do believe, cover the intent of what we were asking for,” O’Sullivan said.

Officials from the Guard on Thursday summarized the report before a joint hearing of the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on Government Operations.

Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, adjutant general of the Vermont Guard, told legislators that sexual assault has no place in the National Guard. He called it “an attack on the values we defend” that changes the lives of Guard members forever.

Last year, former Army Guard Brig. Gen. Jonathan Farnham dropped out of the race to lead the National Guard amid anonymous accusations that he did little to deal with a case of sexual assault, as reported by Seven Days’ Paul Heintz.

Angela Lakey, Vermont National Guard sexual assault response coordinator, described the Guard’s efforts to prevent such violence and encourage victims to report.

In the Vermont Guard, victims can file an “unrestricted report” that can be reported to civilian law enforcement or a “restricted report.”

The military does not have the authority to criminally prosecute sexual assault.

In a “restricted report,” a victim can receive medical treatment and counseling without triggering an official investigation. Those victims remain anonymous and the cases are not reported to law enforcement or up the chain of command.

The report concerns incidents reported between Oct. 1, 2012, and Sept. 30, 2013. In that time period the Vermont National Guard had 3,959 members, including 919 full-time employees.

Four of the six cases of reported sexual assault were “unrestricted,” and were investigated, the report shows.

All four unrestricted reports accused a Guard member of assault. Three of the four alleged victims were members of the Guard.

Three of the six total alleged sexual assaults happened in the line of duty, the report said.

Three of the four cases triggered military administrative investigations and one triggered a civilian criminal investigation, the report says.

At the end of fiscal year 2013, the Vermont National Guard had four new unrestricted cases, the report says. One is under investigation by local law enforcement and two were referred to local law enforcement but not investigated, the report says.

Those two cases and a fourth case were investigated by the military, the report says. All three concluded there was wrongful sexual conduct.

The Guard took administrative disciplinary action in one case, the report says. Discipline is pending in the other two.

Two cases were carried over from previous fiscal years, the report says. Both were investigated by local law enforcement. One was closed pending further evidence and the other resulted in civilian criminal charges to which the defendant pleaded guilty, the report says.

The report also includes details about how the Guard is progressing in its goals to prevent and better respond to sexual assault and harassment.

The Guard does not have a system for identifying complaints of discrimination based on sexual orientation, the report says. Officials on Thursday said one is being drafted.

However, a review of records maintained by the Inspector General and legal office show no formal reports of sexual orientation discrimination, the report said.

With regard to sexual harassment, there were no formal complaints filed this fiscal year, the report says.

Three informal cases were reported this year and resolved at the commander level to the satisfaction of the complainant, according to the report.

In one case, a commander noted additional misconduct by the accused person that resulted in an administrative investigation and disciplinary action, the report said.

The Vermont National Guard hired its first full-time Sexual Assault Response Coordinator in 2010, the report says.

National Guard policy allows an alleged victim of sexual assault to be transferred temporarily or permanently from his or her command to a different location within 72 hours. It also prohibits pornographic or sexually explicit material on National Guard property or in the workplace.

In November 2012, the Guard created the Office of Complex Investigations, a team of out-of-state investigators with civilian legal and/or law enforcement background who investigate alleged sexual assault.

Lakey said that tool has been especially helpful in addressing reported sexual assault.

Legislators asked Guard representatives what they are doing to address domestic violence, mentioning a recent case in Essex in which a father allegedly strangled his son and is believed to have hanged himself.

Lakey said the focus for now has been on sexual assault but domestic violence could be another issue to tackle.

Rebecca Robinson, who counsels veterans and helps them file claims for military sexual trauma with the national Veterans Affairs Office in Vermont, told legislators the Vermont system for reporting sexual trauma and receiving compensation works well.

More people are coming forward, she said. Half of the members who reported unwanted sexual attention in the military were men, she said.

“It is happening, it keeps happening, and we are there,” she said.

The committee also heard from a representative from the office of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the sponsor of a broad veterans services bill that includes a provision to extend counseling and treatment to services military members on inactive duty training and require reporting for domestic abuse.

A legislative attorney also briefed the committee on changes to federal laws designed to crack down on sexual assault. Federal laws apply when Guard members are activated.

Laura Krantz

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  • sandra bettis

    it sseems to be an inherent problem in the military (including norwich).

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