While reports of sexual assault within the ranks of the Wyoming Military Department are down more than 30%, even one is one too many, said state Rep. Landon Brown, R-Cheyenne.
Brown is co-chair of the Joint Transportation, Highway and Military Affairs Committee, which heard a report Thursday outlining a drop of sexual assault reports in fiscal year 2023. There were 11 incidents of sexual assault reported within the Wyoming Military Department in 2023 down from 16 in 2022.
Of these, two involved Wyoming National Guard perpetrators. One case is under investigation by local law enforcement and involved a family member who was a victim.
Another was investigated and did not meet the threshold of prosecution for sexual assault and was closed. Even so, the guard member involved was given a no contact order and flagged in the military system but received no administrative punishment.
Two events involved guard members who were victims. Guard members who are assaulted off-duty can still receive victim services.
‘Ahead Of The Curve’
Local law enforcement is required to investigate all reports of sexual assault within the military.
“Because we take reporting seriously, we’ll count it as that even though it wasn’t,” said Wyoming National Guard Maj. Gen. Gregory Porter, Wyoming’s adjutant general.
Porter said those accused of sexual harassment in the Army aresupposed to have their record flagged, which suspends their ability to receive awards and be promoted.
The requirement is the same for the Air National Guard without a flagging mechanism, which Porter said the department is working on.
“I think we’re ahead of the curve in getting the new guidance out,” he said.
There is no information available on three of the cases as Porter said the victims elected to not seek law enforcement involvement and only wantedservices. He also said there were three cases where victims reported events but didn’t seek services.
There also was one report of sexual harassment, which was substantiated and resulted in the offender receiving administrative punishment.
Brown said that although he appreciates the decline, the goal for sexual assaults should always be zero.
“I think I can speak for the committee when I say that wholeheartedly,” he said.
Porter said more work needs to be done communicating to members of the military what their resources and outlets are for reporting sexual assault and harrassment. Even more important, he said, is preventing sex assaults from happening in the first place.
“Nothing breaks down our ability to fight and win on the battlefield than if we don’t deal with this correctly,” Porter said.
The department is planning more bystander training, a tool for people who witness acts of assault to report them. Porter believes this is one of the most effective forms of training his department has done.
Porter said a few years ago, the department had issues with young guardmembers entering basic training who were experiencing incidents of grooming. He said training was added to help identify this activity, which cut out all reports of sexual assaults at basic training centers.
“Being able to arm the young men and women that are going there with the information is important,” Porter said.
Last year, reports of sexual assault nearly tripled from the year before in the Wyoming Military Department.
Although he said he was concerned with the number of sexual assault reported in the Wyoming National Guard, Porter also argued at the time that this was a positive sign of having better reporting mechanisms in place.
“I see reporting going up, I think we want reporting going up,” he said in 2022.
Of the 11 reports this past fiscal year, one was from an incident that happened in 2021 and three were from 2020, which Porter said is another positive sign.
Sexual assault victims can also report incidents to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
Don’t Investigate Your Own
Porter said if harassment happens in one branch of the military, it’s imperative that an investigator from another branch investigate the claims.
Porter told the committee that he doesn’t believe there’s a culture of sexual violence within the Wyoming Millitary Department, but also admitted that “we’d be remiss to not recognize that it’s out there in our society.”
Porter said the formation gives a top priority to caring for victims, preventing sexual assault events and holding people accountable for theiractions. He also identified sexual harrasment, drug and alcohol abuseand suicide as other “corrosive” issues the department is trying to weed out.
It’s about addressing “anything that divides us, that keeps us from being the winning set of force that we have to be to go do our job for the state and nation,” he said.
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.