Johnson-Baldwin mashup (copy)

Wisconsin’s U.S. senators: Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, and Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison.

Wisconsin's federal lawmakers say they will continue to push for accountability in how the Wisconsin National Guard investigates sexual assault allegations, following a four-part Cap Times investigation and after hearing from their constituents about the issue for months. 

Earlier this month, the Cap Times published a four-part investigative series: "Failure to Protect," which examined how the Wisconsin Army National Guard treats soldiers who are sexually abused in its service. The series focused on 1st Lt. Megan Plunkett, 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. The series also looks at a yearlong, internal Guard investigation into Plunkett’s first unit, which concluded that it had a longstanding culture of sexual misconduct and identified four men who called themselves "the four horsemen" and "preyed" on women in the unit for sexual favors, according to the report.

In April, following a request by Gov. Tony Evers and Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, the National Guard Bureau, confirmed that it will investigate Wisconsin's Guard units. The Bureau is a federal administrative agency run by the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, that oversees National Guards units nation wide,

Investigators have begun to collect and examine Wisconsin's Guard records. Their review is scheduled to take six to nine months and include surveys of climate and morale in Guard units and interviews with soldiers and airmen and airwomen.

John Kraus, a spokesman for Baldwin, said the senator takes the allegations about Wisconsin's National Guard seriously and expects the National Guard Bureau's report to be a "top to bottom look" at all open and closed sexual harassment and assault investigations. 

“Several Wisconsin constituents and National Guard service members have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault, retaliation and inadequate accountability for those who commit sexual misconduct," Kraus said in an email. "Senator Baldwin has serious concerns about this and that is why she called for the National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations to conduct an independent and comprehensive assessment of the Wisconsin National Guard’s sexual assault protocols, reporting mechanisms, investigations and accountability measures.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson said he will also push for more accountability. 

“It is depressing to read about the prevalence of sexual assault in our armed forces. Those who committed sexual assault, and anyone who allowed it to occur, must be held accountable to the maximum extent prescribed through the appropriate military and legal channels,” he said in a statement to the Cap Times.

Last week, Johnson introduced a bill in the U.S. Senate with Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa that would streamline and standardize how federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, which oversees the National Guard in each state, collect data on sexual assault and harassment.

The bill would implement recommendations from a 2016 Government Accountability Office report that found differences in data collection efforts, across various federal agencies — including the use of 23 different terms to describe sexual violence. The GAO reported that “differences in data collection efforts may hinder the understanding of the occurrence of sexual violence, and agencies' efforts to explain and lessen differences have been fragmented and limited in scope.” 

“The first step in solving any problem is gathering the information you need to properly define it,” Johnson said in a statement. “We must improve the quality and consistency of sexual assault data made available across government agencies.”

Representative Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said it is "clear that the (National Guard) officers responsible for dealing with these issues have acted inappropriately." 

“Retaliation for reporting sexual assault is unacceptable," he said. "Last year, I joined Senator Baldwin in calling for an independent investigation into claims of misconduct at the Wisconsin National Guard and I will continue to push for accountability and changes to how the military treats victims of sexual assault." 

Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher of Green Bay said he will also continue to support legislation that better addresses sexual assault in the military.

“There is no place for sexual assault in society, let alone our armed forces,” Gallagher said in a statement to the Cap Times. “Those who commit these disgusting acts should be held accountable for their actions, and we must continue to work on ways to better address this issue in Wisconsin and throughout the military.” 

 

Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.