Service ribbons adorn the uniform worn by a Maine Army National Guard member. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

If you or someone you know needs resources or support related to sexual violence, contact the Maine Coaltion Against Sexual Assault’s 24/7 hotline at 800-871-7741.

Lawmakers recommended on Wednesday an expanded review of the Maine National Guard’s handling of sexual abuse that could lead to criminal charges for soldiers.

A committee voted to recommend the full Legislature pass a bill to launch investigations by multiple state and federal agencies as part of a larger proposal to tackle military sexual violence in Maine.

It signaled that the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee is taking a more sweeping approach to tackling the problem exposed in last year’s three-part Bangor Daily News investigation. It follows recent pressure from survivors who demanded greater oversight of the Maine Army National Guard.

Specifically, the bill would tap the federal National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations to assess the scope of Maine’s problem and identify flaws in how it responds, resulting in a detailed report to suggest improvements.

A second investigation by the Office of the Maine Attorney General would determine if the state should bring any criminal charges against guard members accused of sexual abuse or harassment. The attorney general would also look at how local law enforcement handles cases from the guard.

“There may not be anything we can prosecute, but there may be ancillary information we learn [during that investigation] about how things were reported,” Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey told lawmakers.

Both agencies have said they are willing to conduct the probes, which also have the support of the guard’s top military official.

The vote comes less than a week after lawmakers heard nearly three hours of emotional testimony from survivors of sexual assault and harassment inside the Maine Army National Guard, many of whom urged the committee to investigate the guard’s toxic culture after coming forward to the BDN.

“I hope the people who testified and asked for this … are feeling like whatever we do, we’re taking positive steps and doing our best to do what’s right,” Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, said.

Gov. Janet Mills last week signed an executive order establishing an advisory council that will recommend improvements to the guard’s handling of sexual abuse.

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Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.