|Senator Bill Diamond|
It's no secret that sexual assault is a big problem in our society, with 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men experiencing some form of sexual harassment or sexual assault in their lifetime. With a problem so widespread and so serious, it’s everyone’s responsibility to step up and stop sexual assault wherever it occurs.
In the Legislature, my colleagues and I are focusing on two settings where sexual assault is pervasive and, sadly, under-addressed: Maine’s college campuses and the Maine National Guard.
Sexual assault on college campuses has received a lot of attention in recent years, and for good reason. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, college-aged adults are at high risk for sexual violence, but they are also very unlikely to report their experiences to law enforcement.
There’s a variety of reasons one might choose not to report, including fear of reprisal and the belief that they won’t be taken seriously. College-aged young adults are in a vulnerable time of their lives, having just left home and figuring out who they are and how to relate to each other. It’s a time full of opportunities and risks, meaning that colleges and universities hold a big responsibility to support their students.
A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson would help combat on-campus assault and better support students by stepping up the requirements for Maine colleges and universities. LD 1727 would require colleges to offer evidence-based prevention and trauma-response training for college students and employees.
Colleges would also need to designate confidential resource advisors to support students who have experienced sexual or domestic violence. The bill would also create a commission to track how well Maine postsecondary schools are handling these issues and to increase transparency and improve policies in the long-term.
This bill would give us more tools to support survivors and to ensure that fewer students are assaulted in the first place.
Another setting where sexual assault is rampant is the military. The Department of Defense estimated that 6.2 percent of active-duty women and 0.7 percent of active-duty men experienced sexual assault in 2018, but the Department also estimates that less than 30 percent of those who were assaulted reported it.
Sadly, Maine’s National Guard has not been immune from this problem. Recent reporting in the Bangor Daily News shed light on what several survivors of assault have gone through as they sought justice and support from their leadership. Sadly, in many instances survivors were let down by Guard leadership, which reportedly prioritized the reputations and careers of the perpetrators over the wellbeing of survivors.
Those in the National Guard step up and volunteer to protect and serve all of us. The fact that anyone would experience assault within its ranks and then be ignored, or even punished, when they reported it is beyond unacceptable.
In late March, Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order to establish the Advisory Council on Military Sexual Trauma, a permanent council that must make recommendations by Dec. 1 of this year about how the National Guard can improve its response to sexual assault and sexual harassment.
The Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee also worked hard on a bill to investigate how the National Guard has been handling sexual abuse. The bill directs the Maine Attorney General’s Office to investigate how the Maine National Guard and local law enforcement have conducted their investigations of sexual assault and to determine if any criminal charges need to be filed.
The bill also better defines harassment, requires the Adjutant General to report to the Legislature annually, and takes other steps to ensure that survivors in the Guard are better supported.
It takes tremendous bravery to come forward and report sexual assault, whether one is reporting that to their college, their commanding officer, the police or even family and friends. If you or someone you know is looking for support after experiencing an assault or domestic violence, there are organizations in our area that can help. You can learn more about Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine by visiting www.sarssm.org, and their free, private, 24-hour crisis and support helpline is available at 1-800-871-7741. Through These Doors, Cumberland County’s domestic violence resource center, can be reached at www.throughthesedoors.org or on their 24-hour helpline, 1-800-537-6066.As always, I’m here to help however I can. <