In an unprecedented move, the Vermont National Guard reveals there were six reported sex assaults within the ranks last fiscal year. The sexual assault report comes after new laws mandated the release of such information.
Although this report is a step in the right direction for transparency in the Guard, sexual assault victims and advocates worry that these numbers are under-reported.
"I heard of cases of women reporting and then not being able to stay in the National Guard as a result of that," said Cathleen Wilson of HOPE Works.
Wilson says HOPE Works, the outreach program for sexual assault victims, has been working with the Vermont National Guard for years providing support to victims. But for the first time the number of those victims has been made public.
"It includes rape, sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, abusive sexual contact, forcible sodomy, and attempts to commit these acts," said Angela Lakey, the Vermont Guard sexual assault response coordinator.
According to the legislative report, the guard had six reports of sexual assaults last fiscal year. The reported incidents include both on- and off-duty guard members, and all six victims were women. Wilson says military culture can make it hard for victims to come forward. And she fears other cases have gone unreported.
"I think that can be a source of concern for victims-- that they are worried that if they report this, that there could be some kind of retribution, perhaps the person who sexually assaulted them is a superior to them and they are their subordinate," said Wilson.
Of six reported cases, four were referred to local law enforcement and only one resulted in a guilty plea. Law enforcement could not find enough evidence to prosecute the remaining three, but the military took disciplinary action in one case and action is still pending in the others.
"Sexual assault, sexual harassment and discrimination based upon sexual orientation have no place in the Vermont National Guard. It's an attack on the values we defend and the cohesion our units demand," said Maj. Gen. Steven Cray.
Cray says the guard is working to improve its reporting procedures in an effort to give victims more faith in the system. For advocates like Wilson, she says this report is a step toward much needed transparency, but also warns it could deter other victims from coming forward.
"That is really the key is to make sure that victims feel supported and safe coming forward, that this doesn't inadvertently cause a culture of silence, because now the spotlight is on and people are watching. And so we certainly don't want that to be a case for hushing it up," said Wilson.
The report also states that none of the six sex assault incidents happened while Guard members were deployed.