Gov. Janet Mills signed into law Tuesday a bill to strengthen the response to reports of sexual assault and harassment in the Maine National Guard.

The bill was adopted after female soldiers complained to lawmakers this year that the Guard wasn’t strongly enforcing its own policies and there was little outside oversight of how the Guard handled reports of sexual harassment and assault. Female soldiers also said that some who came forward with complaints suffered retaliation.

Mills said the measure will help address those complaints and also complement an executive order she issued in March setting up an advisory council to connect victims of harassment and assault with help, and to improve the Guard’s response to allegations of misconduct.

The council will recommend by December steps the Maine National Guard should take to improve its response to sexual assault and harassment in its ranks, with a particular focus on improving ways civilian law enforcement agencies and the Guard collaborate on that response.

Mills is expected to name members to the 10-person council in the next few weeks.

“Sexual assault or harassment will not be tolerated by my administration, including in the Maine National Guard,” Mills said when she signed the bill. “We are committed to taking immediate, responsive action to reported allegations, to providing justice and support for survivors and to delivering accountability for the perpetrators.”


“This new law will help bring us one step closer to addressing and preventing sexual assault and harassment in the Maine National Guard,” said Rep. Morgan Rielly, D-Westbrook, who led the push to pass the bill.

The bill outlines several reforms, among them strengthening military protection orders to make them more effective. The military has had the authority to issue protection orders, but they weren’t recognized by state courts and could only be enforced when Guard members were serving or on military property. The law changes the state’s criminal code to recognize the validity of military-issued protection orders.

The bill will also provide travel funds for victims to attend proceedings on sexual assault or harassment allegations after they are discharged from the Guard. Mills’ office said those costs can be prohibitive and shouldn’t be borne by victims.

In addition, the bill will give the Guard a seat on the Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse; require an annual report from the Guard to legislators on sexual assault and harassment issues; and require the Maine attorney general to review the civilian response to investigations of sexual assault and harassment.

Reports of sexual assault are initially referred to civilian law enforcement agencies for investigation and, if civilian authorities decline to pursue charges, the cases are then referred to federal investigators. The findings by those investigators guide the Guard’s actions.

The attorney general’s review is intended to look at how civilian law enforcement agencies and prosecutors investigated cases and decided whether to prosecute.

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