According to The Cap Times, Wisconsin state legislators have done nothing to change laws regarding sexual assault and discrimination in the National Guard despite a recent increase in reported offenses.

The call for changes to the Wisconsin Code of Military Justice came after a 2019 report by the National Guard Bureau which found widespread mishandling of sexual assault and discrimination cases. The National Guard Bureau is a federal agency that oversees state National Guards.

The Cap Times reported sexual assault was not officially listed as a crime in the WCMJ until 2014.

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Gov. Tony Evers urged legislators to update the WCMJ to meet federal military law standards. Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, expects lawmakers to update the WCMJ by next year, and said the state legislature should do everything in its power to protect those who serve our state.

Wisconsin National Guard deputy director of public affairs Major Joe Trovato says the Guard supports working with the legislature to update the WCMJ.

“The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs has had discussions with leaders in state government about updating the Wisconsin Code of Military Justice to better align with the Uniform Code of Military Justice [the code that governs federal military law],” Trovato said. “Those discussions are still preliminary in nature, however, we remain committed to working with both the governor’s office and the legislature to seek updates to the WCMJ.”

While the laws within the WCMJ have yet to be changed, the Wisconsin National Guard itself made some changes. According to Spectrum News 1, the Guard assigned a sexual assault response coordinator in light of recent criticism.

Trovato said SARCs have participated in all U.S. military organizations since 2005. Trovato said a state-level SARC oversees the implementation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program. A state-level SARC also trains lower-level SARCs within the national guard and provides sexual assault education for troops.

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“The SARCs and unit Victim Advocates take reports from our service members no matter when or where the assault occurred and no matter the context,” Trovato said. “Most of the reports they receive occur in the context of a service member’s civilian life — not between members of the Wisconsin National Guard.”

In other words, assault in a private workplace, college or home can be reported to the SARC.

Problems with sexual assault occurred within the Wisconsin National Guard in previous years. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Master Sgt. Jay Ellis of the Wisconsin Air National Guard reported multiple instances of sexual assault of female guard members. Ellis alleged his commanders tried to discharge him from the Guard and get rid of his retirement benefits in retaliation.

Ellis said the Guard asked him to move his gear out of his locker and attempted to use past medical issues as reasoning for his discharge. Ellis said he didn’t know who to trust during this time. Nevertheless, Ellis’s complaints about sexual assault prompted multiple federal investigations into the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

Trovato said the Wisconsin National Guard doesn’t conduct its own investigations into sexual assault. Instead, cases are reported to local and state law enforcement or the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Trovato spoke on past sexual assault cases regarding the DOJ.

“DOJ is doing a second check to see if any cases are ripe for reconsideration [or] referral to local [district attorneys] for prosecution,” Trovato said. “Civilian authorities have jurisdiction in these matters and would be the prosecuting agencies from a criminal perspective.”

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According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the armed forces received 5,864 reports of sexual assault in 2017, a 10% raise from 2016.

The Defense Department reported sexual assault in the military rose by 3% in 2019. But, the study included focus groups and was not conducted anonymously, which may affect the number of cases reported. The Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office deputy director Nate Galbreath estimated only 30% of sexual assaults are reported to the authorities.

Rates of reported sexual assaults differ between men and women. While the Pentagon estimates women report 43% of sexual assaults, the same research showed only 17% of men report sexual assaults in the military, according to the Military Times.

According to the Military Times, military culture often fosters sexual assault.

“Alcohol plays a major role in many military sexual assaults, as does the close quarters,” the article said. “For some, that’s just an accepted part of the culture.”

Victims of sexual assault can visit the official Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website to access 24/7 phone helplines and other resources.