By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON (AP) — Federal military officials have agreed to review how the Wisconsin National Guard handles sexual-assault allegations in the wake of alleged incidents dating to 2002, Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said on Wednesday.
Evers and Baldwin, both Democrats, asked the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations in Washington, D.C., in March to review the Wisconsin Guard’s sexual-assault and harassment-reporting procedures, investigative protocols and accountability measures. The governor and the senator issued a joint news release Wednesday morning announcing that OCI will conduct “a thorough, independent assessment” that could take several months.
“The bottom line is that our service members deserve to work in an environment that’s free of sexual assault and harassment and the fear they might face retaliation for reporting,” Evers said.
According to the news release, an OCI team will review Wisconsin Guard policies and practices, conduct on-site reviews at all major Wisconsin Guard locations, review sexual-assault and harassment allegations and provide recommendations on how to prevent incidents. The news release asks any Wisconsin Guard members with concerns or complaints about sexual harassment and assault to email the OCI team at NationalGuardAssessment@wisconsin.gov.
“The men and women of the Wisconsin National Guard deserve an environment free of sexual harassment and assault and I believe this impartial outside review of past actions, current protocols, and future improvements is the best way to meet that objective,” Baldwin said.
A spokeswoman for the National Guard Bureau, April Cunningham, had no immediate comment. A spokesman for the Wisconsin National Guard, Capt. Joe Trovato, didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. He said in March, when Evers and Baldwin requested their review, that Wisconsin Guard would furnish any information OCI investigators wanted.
The U.S. Air Force is already investigating allegations of sexual assault and harassment within a Wisconsin Air National Guard security unit. That investigation was sought by Baldwin in November after a master sergeant in the unit, Jay Ellis, told her office that he knew of six incidents of harrasment that occurred between 2002 and 2016 and that high-ranking officers had done little in response.
Wisconsin Guard officials told reporters during a question-and-answer session earlier this month that they had received 52 reports of sexual assault between 2013 and 2017, more than half of which were related to military service. Guard investigators substantiated that 10 of the reports related to military service, meaning they felt there was enough evidence to continue down the path toward internal punishment.
The Guard has initiated two court-martials for sexual assault since 2013. Trovato said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday that one of the proceedings concluded in 2015 with a private being sentenced to 30 days in jail and receiving a bad-conduct discharge for failing to obey orders, cruelty and maltreatment. The other involved a staff sergeant charged with sexual assault and indecent exposure, maltreatment, indecent conduct, disobeying a superior officer and making a false statement. That proceeding is still ongoing. He didn’t have any further details about the two cases.
The remaining eight cases have been referred for “administrative action,” which could include demotions, reprimands and discharges, Trovato said during the question-and-answer session.
Wisconsin Guard officials said during that session that sexual assault has no place in the Guard’s ranks. They noted that victims can request confidentiality when they report incidents. Victims can also obtain counseling services. And, every time there is an alleged incident, the Wisconsin Guard’s leader, Adj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, is notified, although there isn’t necessarily an investigation.
They noted that victims can seek expedited transfers away from perpetrators within the same unit and that commanders stress to their soldiers and airmen to conduct themselves professionally.