Maine National Guard releases National Guard Bureau review of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program

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AUGUSTA, MAINE (09/08/2022) (readMedia)-- The Maine National Guard (MENG) today released a memorandum from the National Guard Bureau (NGB) reviewing the MENG's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) and related programs.

The memorandum, which outlines findings and recommendations from NGB, was requested by Adjutant General Douglas Farnham earlier this year to receive an independent review of SAPR programs, related programing, and regulatory adherence to "make sure we are truly doing all that we can for our men and women in uniform." The review came after the MENG submitted a legislative report on the SAPR program as required by LD 625, signed by Gov. Janet Mills in May 2021.

The review was conducted June 27 through June 30 by NGB officials and found that "all aspects of the programs were found in compliance with NGB policies and guidance." The review also noted "minor discrepancies" and offered recommendations that Maj. Gen. Farnham has said will be implemented as soon as possible.

The MENG is also participating in an Advisory Council on Military Sexual Assault, established through an Executive Order from Gov. Mills' earlier this year. The Advisory Council is charged with making recommendations to the Governor by December 1, 2022 about how the MENG can improve its response to sexual assault and sexual harassment, with particular focus on coordinating state and local law enforcement, prosecutors, and National Guard personnel as they respond to individual cases.

"The safety and welfare of our service members is always our first focus, and this review is an important step forward in helping us identify how we can further strengthen and improve our programs to better serve the men and women of the Maine National Guard," said Maj. Gen. Farnham. "Sexual assault and harassment are not compatible with military service – period. They run completely counter to our core values and what it means to wear our nation's uniform. We will continue to work hard to prevent it, and to deliver accountability if it does occur. I thank the National Guard Bureau for its review of our program. We will begin implementing their recommendations immediately, and I look forward to our continued work and collaboration on the Governor's Advisory Council to discuss better coordinating state resources in support of existing federal programs."

Earlier this year, Gov. Mills also signed into law LD 2029, legislation to strengthen the MENG's response to sexual assault and harassment. Taken together, LD 2029, the Advisory Council, and other actions being undertaken fulfil the five action steps identified in a recent report by the MENG to improve its ability to respond 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 MENG to provide post-discharge travel funds for sexual assault or harassment proceedings: The law requires the MENG 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 survivors. The MENG will locate funding and make it available for their use.

- Provide the MENG 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 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). Previously, the Commission did not formally include any members who represent the military community. While the MENG 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 MENG Sexual Assault and Harassment Allegations: Under national regulations, if the MENG 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 that action, the Guard then refers cases to outside Federal investigators and uses their findings to pursue administrative action. LD 2029 directed 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 National Guard members. The MENG has provided case information to the Attorney General's office, whose review is currently ongoing.

- Establishes Annual Report: The law requires an annual report from the MENG to the Legislature's Committee on Veterans' and Legal Affairs to provide an update on allegations of sexual assault or harassment in the MENG.

The MENG 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.

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 MENG support as their cases move forward. The NGB review made note of this program in their report, indicating it may be a best practice for other states to adopt.

The MENG 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.

Additionally, with Federal funding now becoming available, Maine and other states are laying the groundwork for an Integrated Primary Prevention Program, as the National Guard looks to enhance existing programming by drawing holistic preventative efforts under a single umbrella. For Maine, this means an additional team of up to four personnel focused on increasing resilience and further reducing self-harm, substance abuse, any form of family or workplace abuse, and other issues that affect military populations and their families.

The full NGB memorandum is attached.

Additional information on Gov. Mills' Military Sexual Trauma Advisory Council can be found at:

Additional information on the National Guard SAPR program can be found at: