Governor Janet Mills today signed an Executive Order (PDF) establishing a permanent Advisory Council on Military Sexual Trauma to ensure that survivors of harassment or assault in the military are being connected to all available resources and to improve the Maine National Guard’s responses to assault and harassment within its ranks. The Advisory Council is one of five actions identified in a recent report by the Maine National Guard to improve its response to sexual harassment and assault.
“My Administration, including the Maine National Guard, will not tolerate assault or harassment, and we are committed to taking immediate, responsive action to any reports brought to our attention, both to pursue accountability for the perpetrator and to provide justice and support for the survivor,” said Governor Mills. “In establishing this Advisory Council, I am charging its members with recommending steps to ensure that the Guard is doing all it can to prevent sexual assault and harassment and all it can to support survivors and deliver justice and accountability.”
The Advisory Council is charged with making recommendations to the Governor by December 1, 2022 about how the Maine National Guard can improve its response to sexual assault and sexual harassment within its ranks, with particular focus on coordinating state and local law enforcement and prosecutors and National Guard personnel as they respond to individual cases. The ten members of the Advisory Council, to be appointed by the Governor, will include a wide range of stakeholders, including those directly impacted by sexual assault or harassment.
Under national regulations, if the Maine National Guard receives an unrestricted report of sexual assault the Guard reports it directly to civilian law enforcement to ensure an independent investigation. If civilian authorities decline to pursue criminal charges in the court system, or if survivors choose not to pursue civil action, the Guard then refers cases to outside Federal investigators and uses their findings to pursue administrative action.
“As Maine’s Adjutant General, I take nothing more seriously than the welfare of the men and women who sign up to serve our state and nation. Sexual assault and all forms of harassment stand in stark opposition to everything it means to wear our country’s uniform,” said Major General Douglas Farnham, Maine’s Adjutant General. “At the direction of Governor Mills, the Maine National Guard commits to encouraging reporting and intervention, improving resources for survivors and their families, and taking aggressive action against those who fail to live up to our values. This Advisory Council will inform next steps to further strengthen our response to sexual harassment and assault in Maine.”
General Farnham last week wrote to the Director of the Office of Complex Investigations (OCI), Major General Charles M. Walker, asking that OCI recommend a way forward for the Maine National Guard to receive an independent review of its sexual assault prevention and response programing and regulatory adherence to make sure “we are truly doing all that we can for our men and women in uniform”. The request comes after OCI in 2020 placed a stay on its assessments of state National Guard commands.
Last year, Governor Mills signed into law LD 625, which directed the Maine National Guard to evaluate what actions could be taken at the State level to strengthen or improve the Guard’s response to sexual harassment and assault. Earlier this month, the Maine National Guard submitted that report to the Legislature, identifying five steps to strengthen its response to sexual assault and harassment. Those steps are:
- Streamline military and civilian protection orders: The MENG will work to amend the Maine Criminal Code to recognize legal authority of the orders of military commanders outside of duty times. Currently, commanders can issue orders for military members in their command to have no contact with other service members; however, those service members can only be held accountable when they are on military status or military property. While these are lawful orders, they are not recognized in state courts. Because of this gap, there may be no consequences for harassment once military training is over and the service member is off the military installation – where service members spend most of their time. MENG victims of sexual harassment and assault can and do avail themselves of the civilian protective order process; however, the MENG believes victims of sexual harassment and assault would benefit from military commanders being able to issue a protection order that would also be recognized in state courts and effective outside a military installation.
- Provide post-discharge travel funds for sexual assault or harassment proceedings: The MENG will make post-discharge travel funds available to eligible service members and former service members involved in sexual assault or sexual harassment court proceedings. Once a victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment has left the military, they can be put on a State Active Duty order to participate in investigations and board proceedings, prosecute sex offenders or complete other administrative matters. These orders require travel and its associated costs can be prohibitive. These costs should not be borne by the victims. The MENG will locate funding and make it available for their use.
- Formalize the partnership between the MENG and Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault: The MENG will enter into a formalized memorandum of agreement with the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault. The MENG relies on community sexual assault support centers around the state to augment its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) personnel in the provision of advocacy and support services. Our service members live and work in communities across the state and our full-time SAPR assets are located in Augusta and Bangor. An MOA would strengthen the growing connection between MENG SAPR Team and MECASA (and the sexual assault support centers), more clearly define roles and maximize the working relationship between these entities. With an MOA in place, our service members and their family members, whether survivors of sexual violence or not, will have the most robust prevention and response resources possible available to them. The MENG SAPR Team will continue to educate their partners in advocacy around the state about the unique considerations associated with providing services to service members and their family members, and, in turn, be educated about trends, legislative changes, and available community resources, and share what is learned with MENG leadership, service members, and family members.
- Provide the MENG a seat on the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse: The MENG will work to secure a dedicated seat on the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse for a representative of the MENG with experience in sexual assault response, as designated by 19-A M.R.S. § 4013 (establishes the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse). The Commission does not formally include any members who represent the military community. While the MENG sends an attendee to these meetings whenever possible, formal and full membership on this Commission will provide the MENG an opportunity to represent and advocate for service members during policy making procedures.
- Create an advisory council for victim/survivor support: Working closely with the MENG, the Governor’s Office will create an advisory council to formalize a permanent communication structure among relevant parties to ensure that survivors of sexual assault and harassment who are serving or who have served in the National Guard are connected to all available resources. The advisory council will also be charged with reviewing best practices to improve the MENG’s responses to sexual assault and sexual harassment, with particular regard to how the Guard can support Maine’s state and local law enforcement and prosecutors responding to individual cases.
To better support survivors as they interact with law enforcement or the legal system, in 2017 the Maine National Guard created, and recently strengthened, an Office of the Provost Marshal to serve as a centralized liaison and conduit to the law enforcement and criminal justice community. The provost marshal also ensures that service members who are victims of any crime have Maine National Guard support as their cases move forward. The Guard also recently hired its first-ever Victim Advocate Coordinator, which will enable the SAPR program to better recruit, train, and credential additional victim advocates, as well as provide additional 24/7 support to victims.
The Advisory Council is the next step in the Mills Administrations’ efforts to support members of the Guard who have suffered sexual harassment or assault. The Guard will continue to implement the report’s other recommendations with legislative input.
Federal policy regarding investigations of sexual assault and harassment are also being updated in light of new recommendations made by the federal Independent Review Commission.