Report: Vermont National Guard sees fewer sexual assault reports

MONTPELIER — Members of the Vermont National Guard reported fewer instances of sexual assault in 2014 than they did the year before, according to a report issued Tuesday.

According to the report, during fiscal year 2014 — Oct. 1, 2013 through September 2014 — three members of the Vermont National Guard reported being the victims of sexual assault. This figure is half of the six sexual assault reports received during fiscal year 2013.

“The Vermont National Guard is making real progress in building a culture of dignity and respect in our organization,” said Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, the Vermont adjutant general. “The fact that the number of sexual assault cases has declined tells us that we are making some progress, and we’re trying to create a confidence in the reporting system so that survivors feel comfortable enough and confident enough that if this does happen, they can come forward and they will get the support they need and perpetrators will be held accountable.”

In May 2013, Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a requirement for the Vermont Adjutant and Inspector General to provide an annual report on the number of complaints of sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Guard members have the option of reporting sexual assault either through the Vermont National Guard or to local law enforcement. The Vermont National Guard has personnel who handle complaints of assault — as well as harassment and discrimination — and allow Guard members to file a complaint without having to follow the chain of command.

In 2014, The Vermont National Guard received two complaints of sexual assault from alleged victims who did not wish to trigger formal investigations. A third complaint was investigated by civilian law enforcement and was determined to be sexual harassment.

The report also details four cases carried over from previous years. Two cases are closed, pending more evidence or due to the inability of law enforcement to locate individuals for interviews. A third case was not investigated at the request of the alleged victim. In the fourth case, the perpetrator was convicted and adversely separated from the Vermont National Guard.

During the last four years, about half of the sexual assault complaints received involved alcohol, according to Vermont National Guard officials.

According to the latest report, in 2014, the Vermont National Guard received seven complaints of sexual harassment, including two involving the same perpetrator. In those two incidents, one complaint involved sexual harassment and the second involved a reprisal following the first complaint.

Of the seven incidents, two were resolved with what the report called “adverse or administrative action.” The other five investigations remain open.

In all sexual harassment instances, the victim was female.

For the second year in a row, there were no reports of discrimination based on sexual orientation. According to Cray, the lack of discrimination complaints among members of the Vermont National Guard — where gay and lesbian soldiers and airman can serve openly — is a reflection of the organization’s professionalism.

“The 4,000 men and women that are part of today’s military are professionals and understand what it means to be a soldier and an airman and respect that and respect those kinds of choices,” Cray said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said he had not seen the report, but he praised the efforts of the Vermont National Guard to curb incidents of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination.

“I’m really grateful to Gen. Cray and his team for really leading on this issue and saying, ‘Listen, enough is enough. We’re not going to put up with this in the Guard any longer, and we’re going to not only change training, change policies, change practices … but we’re also going to annually review how we’re doing and make sure that we’re staying on top of it,’” Shumlin said. “Gen. Cray has talked to me about this numerous times. He really wants to get it right. I commend him for getting it right and I look forward to receiving the report.”

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