By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — After a couple of high profile sexual assault and misconduct cases, the Minnesota National Guard publicly addressed the problem Thursday.

The Guard held a town hall discussion with all full-time Guard members to draw a line of intolerance.

“I think there are three options here,” said Major Gen. Jon Jensen, adjutant general. “Lead the discussion, be part of the discussion or ignore the discussion. I don’t want to ignore the discussion.”

Over a five year period ending in 2018, Minnesota’s National Guard fielded 90 reported cases of sexual assault — both on and off duty.

“We’re not trying to hide our numbers, because we believe that a strong part of the prevention piece is we’re all aware of where we are,” Jensen said.

That’s an incidence rate of 1.2 assaults per 1,000 soldiers — about a quarter of what’s seen in the nation’s Army. Jensen says it’s still too high.

“So it’s a significantly lower rate, but I will tell you it’s still an unacceptable rate,” Jensen said.

Much like the general workplace, most sexual assaults go unreported. Improving that in the military means ending a troublesome stigma.

“Any sign of weakness was frowned upon, so that may influence people to not come forward,” said John Thompson, sexual assault response coordinator. “They don’t want to be looked upon as damaged.”

The goal is greater awareness and training that for all 13,000 guard members.

“We’ve moved away from the days of blaming the survivors for their own sexual assault. Our response now is centered on believing and supporting all survivors as a starting point,” Jensen said.

Pledging not just support for sexual assault victims, but also strict consequences for their offenders.

Guard leaders say the increase in reporting also shows greater confidence in the guard’s response to alleged assaults.

Bill Hudson