A federal review of the Maine National Guard did not investigate the complaints about a predatory culture that prompted the review in the first place. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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

A federal review of the Maine National Guard’s sexual assault and harassment policies did not investigate the complaints about a predatory culture that prompted the review in the first place.

Last spring, female soldiers pushed lawmakers to call for an independent investigation of the guard after coming forward in a Bangor Daily News series that exposed a culture on the Army side that is permissive of sexual abuse, retaliates against soldiers who come forward, and causes lasting harm that drives women out of the service.

During an emotional 3-hour public hearing, one woman who left Maine to join the Florida National Guard said she wanted to escape a “toxic world.”

Their stories prompted Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham, the guard’s adjutant general, to ask the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations for “an independent review of our sexual assault prevention and response programing and regulatory adherence,” according to a March 18 letter he wrote seeking the review.

“I want our Soldiers and Airmen, and their families, to be confident that we are doing everything we can to support and protect them as we continue the critical work of eliminating sexual assault and harassment from our ranks,” he wrote.

That investigation, however, did not look into the specific allegations and concerns brought forward by survivors of abuse who called for greater oversight earlier this year, according to a copy of the report released Thursday. A guard spokesperson suggested the scope of the investigation was related to limitations at the federal bureau, but that didn’t stop some survivors from feeling underwhelmed by the report.

“The survivors would have liked to have had a greater review of the complexities of the culture and how it interacts with the systematic policies. We still have much work to continue,” said First Lt. Rebecca Cornell du Houx, who testified before lawmakers last spring and runs the Sisters in Arms Center in Augusta, which provides housing and support services for survivors of military sexual trauma.

The 10-page memo, dated Aug. 24, states that the Maine National Guard’s sexual assault and harassment policies are in compliance with federal regulations, with investigators only noting a few minor discrepancies. The report outlines recommendations that are largely administrative and also praised Maine for recently creating a full-time position to serve as a liaison with civilian law enforcement, which investigates allegations of sexual assault in the guard.

The findings are based on “multiple historical record and document reviews, along with interviews of key personnel.”

Other states that have sought help from the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations have received more comprehensive reviews than in Maine.

For example, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Sen. Tammy Baldwin asked for a “detailed assessment” of that state guard’s procedures, including a directive to review past allegations, resulting in an 88-page document. Vermont’s top military official also asked federal investigators to review specific incidents, as well as “systemic or process issues with adjudication of misconduct within the Vermont National Guard and the punishment that resulted.”

However, the bureau “does not conduct the exact same form of assessments as they had in previous years,” said Maj. Carl Lamb, a guard spokesperson, when asked about the narrower scope in Maine. “They transitioned away from it most likely to devote their resources to conducting individual investigations across the 54 states and territories, better enabling states to take administrative action against alleged offenders.”

Lamb did not respond to a question about whether the review adequately addressed the concerns from soldiers but noted the federal review was one of several recent accountability measures that came out of requests from survivors.

Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill last spring that, among other reforms, directs the attorney general’s office to review how civilian law enforcement agencies investigated past reports of sexual assault. The review is underway, Lamb said Thursday.

The governor also established a permanent advisory panel that is expected to produce its first report by Dec. 1.

The federal government is also funding more programs after a landmark review last year put forth 80 recommendations to address military sexual violence, which helped Maine hire additional prevention staff as recently as this summer, Lamb said.

“We believe change is still happening,” he said.

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