“Failure to Protect” is a four-part investigation by reporter Katelyn Ferral into the Wisconsin Army National Guard and its treatment of soldiers who are sexually abused in its service. The series is centered on 1st Lt. Megan Plunkett, a soldier who says she was sexually assaulted by three different Guard colleagues over the course of three years.
After she brought those allegations forward, the Guard not only decided that they were unsubstantiated, but took multiple steps to punish her. Plunkett eventually brought her story to the Cap Times, and after a four-month investigation including access to extensive records of a type rarely available to the public, we are sharing her story with you. It is alarming, nuanced and sometimes graphic, but it is important to hear, coming amidst growing concern among government officials in Wisconsin and nationally about the number of military sexual abuse victims and their treatment.
Part one focuses on Plunkett’s allegations, the Guard’s responses and also explains its procedures for responding to sexual assault allegations.
Part two takes a close look at a yearlong, internal Guard investigation into Plunkett’s first unit, which concluded that it had a longstanding culture of sexual misconduct.
Part three examines the phenomenon of “military sexual trauma” as well as Plunkett’s often frustrating efforts to maintain consistent medical care and legal representation.
Part four describes the Guard’s final — and at this point, unsuccessful — effort to strip Plunkett of military benefits even after she was in the process of getting a discharge for medical reasons.
Ferral also spoke with colleague Jessie Opoien about the series for Opoien's Wedge Issues podcast.
Plunkett says she was assaulted by three different men during her time in the Wisconsin Army National Guard. She reported the assaults and requested investigations into her complaints. The Guard exonerated her alleged assailants, despite its findings in a separate investigation that there was a widespread culture of sexual misconduct in her unit.
“After conducting this investigation it is apparent that some form of sexual misconduct has been prevalent within the 457th (company) for approximately six years,” wrote Lt. Col. Rene Emond, the officer charged with examining the unit's climate.
Despite its prevalence, expert observers say internal supports for sexual assault victims — both for treatment and for seeking justice — in the military are inconsistent at best and counterproductive at worst.
Plunkett said the Guard’s move to revoke her status and benefits was retaliation for reporting past assaults and filing complaints.
The National Guard Bureau, a federal agency that oversees National Guard units nationwide, confirmed Wednesday that it will review how Wisconsin's Guard handles and responds to allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
Gov. Tony Evers and Sen. Tammy Baldwin asked the National Guard Bureau's Office of Complex Investigations to examine Wisconsin's policies for the Air Force and Army components of the Guard earlier this year after hearing complaints from current and former soldiers who said they were discriminated against and sexually harassed and assaulted while serving.
Join Cap Times political reporter Jessie Opoien for Wedge Issues, a podcast catching you up with the elected officials, strategists, analysts and power players of state government and politics in Wisconsin.