Updated Friday, April 16, at 11:48 a.m.
Daniel Blodgett is no longer a member of the Vermont National Guard nearly a month after Seven Days reported on his extensive criminal record and allegations of sexual assault and violence.
At a meeting of the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs on Thursday morning, Adjutant Gen. Greg Knight informed lawmakers of Blodgett’s status as Knight presented an annual report on sexual harassment and assault in the Guard.
J. Scott Detweiler, spokesperson for the Vermont National Guard, said privacy rules prevent disclosure of any other specific information about how and when Blodgett was separated from the Guard.
Seven Days reported in March that Blodgett had been charged earlier this year with multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated domestic assault related to incidents that allegedly took place between 2015 and 2018. The newspaper found that he had at least eight misdemeanor criminal convictions on his record.
In an emailed response to VTDigger, an attorney for Blodgett, Rosie Chase, said her client should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
At a town hall event last month following publication of the story, Knight called the allegations against Blodgett “despicable.”
“The actions described have no place in the Vermont National Guard or in our military,” he said at the time. “Anybody who chooses to behave in such a way, they don’t deserve to be in uniform.”
Knight pledged to take the “strongest and most appropriate action” against Blodgett, but he cautioned that it could take six months to a year to remove someone convicted of a crime from the Guard.
The sexual assault report — required annually under a law enacted in 2013 — details the number of reports of sexual assault and harassment in the Vermont Guard each year. Last year, six allegations of sexual assault were reported — three that took place in fiscal year 2020 and three that had occurred in previous years. Additionally, four sexual harassment complaints were made.
Both numbers were in line with previous years, though officials said that because only one in five sexual assaults are reported, it’s hard to know how accurate those figures are.
“Because we have no mechanism to measure prevalence, and because we know sexual assault is the most underreported crime across the country, it is difficult to determine whether we are actively preventing or reducing the total number of incidents year to year,” Detweiler said.
The Vermont Guard has a history of failing to crack down on sexual misconduct within its ranks. In 2018, VTDigger published a seven-part series chronicling such behavior.
At Thursday’s hearing, Detweiler pointed to specific data points he said the Guard finds encouraging.
First, of the misconduct reports received between 2010 and 2017, the average time separating the incident and the report was about 18 months. Last year, three of the six reports related to incidents that allegedly occurred earlier the same year.
“This is a key indicator for trust in the system and reflects favorably that other survivors may be more likely to report, and report sooner,” Detweiler said.
He also pointed to several sexual assault risk factors that have been decreasing in prevalence in recent years. For example, the percentage of Guard members who self-identified as struggling with alcohol use decreased from 8% in 2016 to 4% in 2020. Similarly, the number of Guard members who self-reported having multiple sexual partners decreased from 27% to 17%.
“By employing an evidenced-based, coordinated approach across the organization targeted at reducing risk factors and promoting protective factors, we aim to actively and demonstrably decrease the risk of sexual assault in the Vermont National Guard,” Detweiler said.
Lawmakers asked Knight how the Guard could improve its performance on preventing sexual assault. The most effective means, Knight replied, is to work harder to recruit women and use more creative approaches to doing so.
“Historically, in my time at this organization, we think too small. We haven’t gone big enough,” Knight said. “At no point have we, as an organization, gone to the Vermont Commission on Women, to the Legislature, to the [Vermont] Business Roundtable, all of the key players in Vermont, inclusive of state government, and said, ‘Can you help us grow the Guard? Can you help us grow diversity?’”
Also at Thursday’s committee meeting, Guard officials told lawmakers about some of the ways the organization is recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. One major initiative, they said, has been a pledge by Guard members to believe survivors of sexual assault when they come forward.
The Guard also named April 7 “Start Believing Day,” in honor of the pledge. Guard officials said Knight and “most of the leadership team” have taken the voluntary pledge, as have over 260 individual members and “several collective units” of Guard members. The Vermont National Guard has about 3,300 members.
“I’ve spoken with some of my counterparts in other states, and some were questioning why we were doing it, and they conflated taking a pledge to believe survivors, that there was a presumption of guilt for alleged perpetrators,” Knight said. “Ninety-eight percent of allegations made were substantiated. … I think that’s significant. I think that’s vastly different than a presumption of guilt. You pledge to believe, and then the system will adjudicate where the truth lies.”
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