Report: VT National Guard’s sex assault policies can improve

August 9, 2021 GMT

The Vermont National Guard’s sexual assault polices lack specifics to ensure compliance, a prevention program has inadequate resources and many personnel perceive favoritism and a “good old boy” network, according to a new report.

The 113-page report of the Guard’s culture and systems was released Sunday. The assessment had been requested by Maj. Gen. Greg Knight, Vermont’s adjutant general, in November of 2019.

A team from the National Guard Bureau Office of Complex Investigations “determined that the command climate and culture within the VTNG is generally sound, though there is room for improvement.”

The report included 35 recommendations. Among them are to continue to update sexual assault policies to ensure compliance at all levels while emphasizing commanders’ responsibilities to respond to and try to prevent such behavior and to have leadership focus on the health and morale of the civilian force with more chances for personnel to have direct access to senior leadership.

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“This is not only good, I am excited to finally have these recommendations in hand so we may continue to lean in to the change necessary to make this great organization even better,” Knight said in a letter to personnel on Friday.

The report noted instances of misconduct and poor treatment of subordinates. Some members fear that they will be treated unfairly if they come forward with problems about their units because of past leadership and perceived favoritism, the report stated.

“Reporting discrimination may be met with reprisal or retaliation depending on the person who is accused. I feel some leaders still participate in the ‘Good Old Boy’ school of thought and protect those they like,” according to one anonymous Guard member whose quotation is included in the report.

The National Guard Bureau team requested information on cases of sexual assault, harassment and military justice, it received tables of data that were incomplete and often inconsistent, including a list of sexual assaults reported, the report stated. The dates of the alleged offenses and actions taken were missing in some cases, the team said.

“In effect, deficiencies in data collection and record-keeping undermine program management, and it contributes to ‘blind spots’ in identifying enterprise-wide, historic trends and characteristics of sexual assault crimes and risk factors,” the report stated.

In general, members of the Guard told investigators they found its sexual assault prevention and response adequate.

The coronavirus pandemic delayed the release of the report, Knight wrote, but said the Guard had already made progress. The State Equal Employment Manager has published a new anti-harassment policy that includes sexual harassment, “with refined reporting mechanisms and fail-safe’s installed to hold offenders accountable,” he wrote. Over the past year, the Guard has also refined many equal opportunity and sexual assault prevention and response policies, he said.

“We still have work to do, and I am incredibly proud of how far we have come in the years since I first took office,” Knight wrote.