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Politics

New council will recommend ways Maine National Guard can better respond to military sexual trauma

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Mal Leary
/
Maine Public
Gen. Douglas Farnham addresses members of the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee in Augusta Jan. 14, 2016.

A new advisory council will recommend ways to improve how the Maine National Guard responds to sexual harassment and assault within its ranks.

Gov. Janet Mills has signed an executive order creating a permanent Advisory Council on Military Sexual Trauma. The council will recommend ways the Maine National Guard can improve, with a special focus on how the guard and state and local law enforcement and prosecutors can respond to individual cases.

"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," Mills said Thursday in a statement.

Recommendations are due to the governor by Dec. 1. The 10-member council will include a military sexual trauma survivor or advocate, the attorney general and law enforcement officers, among others.

The creation of a new advisory council was one of five recommendations from the Maine National Guard itself, which proposed a series of steps it could take to better respond to sexual harassment and assault in a recent report to the legislature.

Just last week, Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, the state's top military official, asked the National Guard's investigations unit for an independent review of Maine's handling of sexual harassment and assault cases.

"I have profound respect for the survivors who have asked for this approach, and I want to honor their request, which is why I would welcome a third party review to further examine our programs and ensure that the Maine National Guard is doing all it can to not only prevent sexual assault and harassment, but to ensure that we are responding to and supporting survivors appropriately," Farnham said in a March 18 letter.

The letter is addressed to the National Guard's Office of Complex Investigations, which reviews sexual assault allegations.

This comes as members of the legislature's veterans and legal affairs committee introduced legislation that calls for a similar independent investigation.

“I was grateful to see that Gov. Mills has signed an executive order creating an advisory council to strengthen the Maine National Guard’s response to sexual assault and harassment," Rep. Morgan Rielly, D-Westbrook, said Thursday in a statement. "Survivors deserve justice, and it is critical we improve systems of accountability and prevention."

The bill would also implement many of the recommendations from the Maine National Guard.

"If the legislature passes our bill and puts these measures in statute, we will ensure that Maine state government is prioritizing the safety of service members in the years to come, administration to administration," Rielly added.

The committee will hold a public hearing on the legislation Friday morning.