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Minnesota National Guard rolls out sexual assault prevention initiatives

The leader of all National Guard reserves throughout the state of Minnesota, Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, left, said the force's increased and open efforts to prevent sexual assault are intended, in part, to address increased rates of sex crimes among service members. Gabriel Lagarde / Forum News Service

CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. — Minnesota National Guard heads invited media outlets to Camp Ripley the afternoon of Friday, June 21, to announce a number of sexual assault prevention and response initiatives.

Characterized as a push for open dialogue, increased safety and positive health reinforcement for members of the armed services, Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, the adjutant general of all National Guard reserves throughout the state, noted these efforts were spurred, in part, by rising rates of reported sexual assaults.

According to a report provided by the National Guard, from 2014 to 2018 the statewide force received 90 reports of sexual assault, indicative of recent increases and one predominantly affecting junior service members victimized by authority figures immediately above them, such as low-level officers. Jensen observed it can be difficult to pin down whether sexual assaults are increasing or simply being reported more in the current #MeToo era.

At any rate, he said, sexual assault is often underreported in the Minnesota National Guard. John Thompson, the sexual assault coordinator for the Minnesota National Guard, said the force is actively working to form lines of dialogue between soldiers and their officers, as well as reduce the stigma of reporting sexual assault within a profession that often prizes physical, mental and emotional toughness.

Jensen said a National Guard soldier spoke candidly in front of roughly 300 fellow service members on the topic of her own sexual assault experience at a closed town hall at Camp Ripley.

“Her courage serves as a tremendous example of resiliency to our service members and her story helps bring home the stark realities of sexual assault,” Jensen said in a prepared statement. “This event and the transparency of open dialogue is important to us as we bring sexual assault and survivor support to the forefront of community discussion.”

Citing it as a culture change within the armed forces and a “move away from the days of blaming survivors for their sexual assault,” Jensen pointed to increased education, codified programs and training regiments for prevention and response, as well as a wider array of resources soldiers can turn to in times of need — from group discussions and mental health professionals on hand, to task force response teams and army chaplains.

“Now it is about believing and supporting those who have experienced sexual assault,” Jensen said. “Now it is about investigating each and every one of our sexual assault claims when local prosecution teams elect not to prosecute our cases.”

In turn, Jensen also noted the National Guard is looking to increase surveillance, reporting and prosecution of sex related crimes. In this vein, he said, the Minnesota National Guard will be forming an investigative sexual assault task force comprised of service members from all strata and departments of the National Guard to examine the problem as a systemic issue.

The resulting report, he said, will be “as public as possible.”

“It’s very important to me that our soldiers and airmen understand that we’re not trying to hide information, that we’re not trying to hide data,” Jensen said. “It gets to the trust piece. Only through trust will our soldiers come and report when they are assaulted.”

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