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Congress Takes Aim at Guard Sexual Assaults

US Capitol
US Capitol
Washington Report

The chief of the National Guard Bureau defended the force’s efforts in combating sexual assault and harassment in the ranks during a congressional hearing last week.

Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson provided an update on those efforts during remarks to the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel subcommittee. He said the Guard would emphasize prevention moving forward.

Officials noted the Guard faces unique difficulties in addressing sexual assault and harassment compared to other parts of the military. Guardsmen most often serve under the command of their governors, not the Pentagon, meaning there is limited oversight by federal leaders.

The hearing was led by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who chairs the subcommittee. She was an outspoken critic of the current Guard bureaucracy and authorities when it comes to sexual assault cases.

“No longer can the National Guard hide behind their unique status,” she said.

"My understanding is your authority is one of encouragement, subtly hoping [states] will do the right thing," Speier said. "But outside of giving them money, we don't have any hook to get them to do what they should do. At what point do we freeze the money? We have no control, no authority to protect those National Guard service members if the state chooses not to."

Hokanson said he formed a task force shortly after becoming chief to examine sexual assault and harassment within the Guard.

That group identified 19 recommendations in six strategic areas: leader education, growing a healthy culture, resource distribution and communication, partnerships, standardization of efforts and effective measurement.

Hokanson said he accepted all of the recommendations.

"The women and men who serve in our formations raised their right hands, took an oath to the Constitution, and stepped forward to fight our nation's wars and serve our communities in times of crisis," he said. "We owe them strong leadership at every level, and we owe them a workplace free from the violence of assault and harassment. This is a serious problem, and we recognize it as such."

Hokanson also ordered changes to the Office of Complex Investigations at NGB, making it a direct reporting unit, and with state adjutant generals, increased the number of investigators by 60%.

According to Military.com, reports of sexual assault in the Guard have risen over the past decade, growing from 188 alleged incidents on state duty in 2010 to 634 in 2020.

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., the top Republican on the subcommittee, noted the Guard was in an interesting position, with very few members on federal status at any given time.

“They’re in their communities doing civilian jobs and are subject to the same laws as everyone else,” he said. “For the overwhelming majority of Guard members these legal distinctions never cause any issue.”

Gallagher said he looked forward to hearing from Guard leaders on what tools they need to enhance prevention efforts. He said sexual assault and harassment are a blight on the armed forces, be they active, reserve or Guard.

“As always, there is more we could do to improve accountability and integrity in our armed forces,” he said.