The United States Department of Defense has a program dedicated to reducing the frequency of sexual assault in the military and ensuring safety and proper care are given to victims of the crime. The program, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, provides the role of a SAPR victim advocate and specific protocols in the event of a report of sexual assault, focusing on the support and recovery of victims and also increasing accountability of the accused.

More specifically, the Army and National Guard has a program to address sexual harassment and sexual assault prevention and reactionary measures. Their program, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, SHARP, also includes the I. A.M. STRONG (Intervene, Act, and Motivate) campaign dedicated to creating a culture that reprimands those who commit sexual assault/harassment and empowers victims to seek accountability and safety in their workplace. 

Brigadier General Paul Knapp was just promoted to Major General while simultaneously inheriting the position of leader of the Wisconsin National Guard.

What happened throughout the tenure of Major General Donald Dunbar was neither because these programs weren’t in place, nor because these programs were not known to those in charge. What happened was a blatant disregard for federal law and human decency. 

Early December, Gov. Tony Evers released an 88-page report from the Federal National Guard Bureau investigating the mishandling of dozens of sexual assault and harassment cases within the Wisconsin National Guard. He allowed a great majority of the cases to be investigated internally within their system, as opposed to from the outside, per protocol. 

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Victim advocates were seldom trained and certified ― the term “training” is a stretch of a description, and in some cases the training included signing off that the officers had merely looked at a PowerPoint slide.

Dunbar defended his handling of investigations in March via a letter to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

He said the Wisconsin National Guard took numerous “steps in recent years to protect service members and to prevent assault or harassment from taking place.”

Dunbar further claimed the Guard maintained a zero-tolerance policy for sexual assault and harassment. 

The aforementioned zero-tolerance policy should be universal to those who have the responsibility of carrying out those policies ― perhaps it is a disputed issue.

The report detailed, “these internal investigations were deficient in a number of ways that adversely impacted commands’ efforts to properly support victims of sexual assault and hold offenders accountable.”

Apparently, holding offenders accountable is also a disputed issue.

It is imperative these protocols and policies are implemented and enforced properly. If left up to the discretion of one or a few individuals, there is much room for what may have been laziness or genuine disregard for the rules.

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Where is the enforcement mechanism? Who is keeping accountable the people who keep the accused accountable? 

Dunbar has been the leader of the Wisconsin National Guard since 2007. These protocols were put in place before he was. Without the execution of law enforcement, the policy is void. What is the point of even implementing programs like SAPR or SHARP if they aren’t followed?

Perhaps what is needed is an oversight branch. One thing military units do currently is establish climate surveys. These surveys are issued once a year to anonymously allow everyone in the command to give feedback on how policy is enforced and how leadership is doing. Maybe this isn’t enough of an oversight. Maybe it isn’t urgent enough.

Those who are affected by sexual assault and/or harassment, especially in the workplace, are reminded of that horror on the daily. Having multiple people to report to is an absolute necessity because of the multitudes of possibilities of situations. 

Consider a hypothetical situation: if the policy were to simply report to your superior officer if there was an assault or harassment situation, it seems very straight forward, right? The next person in the chain is the person you most trust, right? Well, what if your squad leader, platoon sergeant, company commander, etc. was the person committing the crime and making your life miserable?

Further, if this were the case, could you turn to your victim advocate to point you in the right direction and trust them to know what to do and how to help and support you? Not when they aren’t being trained, and certainly not when perpetrators aren’t being held accountable. 

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Though Evers mandated a monthly report of implementing the recommendations for change made in the report until Sept. 1, constant oversight is needed and perhaps more frequent command climate surveys. Clearly, expectations cannot be the glue holding policy together, especially when people’s pride and humanity are on the line. 

In the military, there are a number of things that need to be done to get a tattoo, go abroad, marry someone from a different country, take leave, etc. Bureaucracy in the military makes every human decision tedious. Perhaps this bureaucracy comes with the exception of feeling safe in the workplace or the comfort of knowing it won’t happen to anyone after you. 

In Knapp’s new tenure, all hope and sympathy go out to victims so they may see justice and know peace. 

Kaitlin Kons ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying political science and public policy.