Governor Janet Mills announced today that she has signed into law LD 2029, legislation to strengthen the Maine National Guard’s response to sexual assault and harassment.
The new law complements an Executive Order issued by Governor Mills that establishes 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.
“Sexual assault or harassment will not be tolerated by my Administration, including in the Maine National Guard,” said Governor Janet Mills. “We are committed to taking immediate, responsive action to reported allegations, to providing justice and support for survivors, and to delivering accountability for the perpetrators. This new law, along with the Advisory Council I established, will help the Maine National Guard accomplish these goals and sharpen the Guard’s response to sexual assault and harassment in the future.”
“I first want to thank all the survivors who have come forward, some publicly and some privately, and shared their stories and showed themselves to be the courageous heroes that they are. It’s our job here to listen to and honor them,” said Representative Morgan Rielly, D-Westbrook, who serves on the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and spearheaded efforts to pass LD 2029. “This new law will help bring us one step closer to addressing and preventing sexual assault and harassment in the Maine National Guard, and I am grateful to Governor Mills for signing this important piece of legislation and for establishing an advisory council to address sexual trauma in the guard.”
“This bill, which has now been signed into law, represents a promise kept. In committee, we were overwhelmed by the bravery and strength of those who came forward to share their stories of abuse, assault and harassment, some for the first time. No one, especially not those serving our nation in uniform, should fear the threat of sexual assault or harassment, nor should they fear retaliation if they come forward to report it. Today, we take a massive step forward in protecting victims and survivors, and holding those in power accountable,” said Senator Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, who serves as Senate Chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “I’d like to thank the Governor for signing this bill and my colleague Representative Morgan Rielly for his leadership on this effort.”
"I am deeply appreciative of all who bravely testified in support of this bill. Sexual assault and all forms of harassment fly in the face of military values and what it means to wear the uniform. Our people are our most valuable resource, and we must always ensure that everything is being done to support our Soldiers and Airmen. I would like to thank the Legislature for beginning this policy enhancement last March with LD 625. LD 2029 and the Governors executive order are direct results of that initiative,” said Major General Douglas Farnham, Maine’s Adjutant General.
Taken together, LD 2029, the Advisory Council, and other actions being undertaken by the Maine National Guard fulfil the five action steps identified in a recent report by the Guard to improve its response to sexual harassment and assault. More specifically, LD 2029:
- Streamlines military and civilian protection orders: The law amends the Maine Criminal Code to recognize legal authority of the orders of military commanders outside of duty times. Previously, commanders could issue orders for military members in their command to have no contact with other service members; however, those service members could only be held accountable when they are on military status or military property. While these are lawful orders, they were not recognized in state courts. Because of this gap, there may not have been 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.
- Requires the Maine National Guard to provide post-discharge travel funds for sexual assault or harassment proceedings: The law requires the Maine National Guard to make post-discharge travel funds available to eligible service members and former service members involved in sexual assault or sexual harassment 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 Maine National Guard will locate funding and make it available for their use.
- Provide the Maine National Guard a seat on the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse: The law provides a dedicated seat on the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse for a representative of the Maine National Guard with experience in sexual assault response, as designated by 19-A M.R.S. § 4013 (establishes the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse). Previously, the Commission did not formally include any members who represent the military community. While the Maine National Guard sent 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.
- Attorney General Review of Law Enforcement Response to Guard Sexual Assault and Harassment Allegations: 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. The law directs a review by the Attorney General of the manner in which law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in Maine investigated and prosecuted allegations of sexual assault or harassment by members of the Guard against other members of the Guard, including. The review will also complement a forthcoming review from the Office of Complex Investigations (OCI), requested by the Adjutant General Doug Farnham, of the Guard’s sexual assault prevention and response programing and regulatory adherence. The request comes after OCI in 2020 placed a stay on its assessments of state National Guard commands.
- Establishes Annual Report: The law requires an annual report from the Maine National Guard to the Legislature’s Committee on Veterans’ and Legal Affairs to provide an update on allegations of sexual assault or harassment in the Guard.
The Maine National Guard is also working to formalize a partnership with the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault to ensure that 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 Advisory Council established by the Governor 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 in the coming weeks, will include a wide range of stakeholders, including those directly impacted by sexual assault or harassment.
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.
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.