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Politics

Mills signs new law aimed at improving Maine National Guard's response to military sexual trauma

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Troy R. Bennett
/
Bangor Daily News
A female soldier in the Maine Army National Guard is leaving her dreams of a military career after being sexually assaulted by another guard member. She wants the guard to improve its handling of sexual assault and harassment cases to protect female soldiers.

Gov. Janet Mills has signed a new bill into law that's designed to improve how the Maine National Guard responds to sexual harassment and assault.

Lawmakers wrote the bill in response to the stories they heard from survivors of sexual harassment and assault, who spent hours testifying before the legislature's veterans and legal affairs committee last month.

The new law calls for a review of how law enforcement agencies and prosecutors investigated sexual assault and harassment allegations by Maine National Guard members against their colleagues in the Guard. The Maine attorney general will be responsible for the review.

The National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations will conduct its own review of Maine's response efforts.

The new law also requires that the Maine National Guard provide post-discharge travel funds to members involved in sexual harassment or assault proceedings. And it gives the Maine National Guard a seat on the state's Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse.

During their testimony, sexual assault survivors said misogyny, harassment and retaliation are deeply embedded within the culture of the Maine National Guard's, and they doubted the organization's ability to hold itself accountable.

"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," Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, the Senate chairman of the legislature's veterans and legal affairs committee, said in a statement. "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."

Mills said the law complements an executive order that she signed last month, which created a new advisory council tasked with improving the Guard's response and prevention efforts. The council is supposed to issue recommendations to the governor by Dec. 1.