More Accountability for Sexual Predators and Toxic Behaviors Needed in Wyoming’s Military Department, Former Air Guard Member Says
Department reported decline in sexual assault cases, planning more prevention strategies
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Nov 09, 2023
By Shen Wu Tan
Special to the Wyoming Truth
The Wyoming Military Department reported a decrease in sexual assaults for this fiscal year, but a former member said the agency should focus on identifying and removing predators from its ranks.
“The responsibility of command is to ensure good order and discipline by identifying toxic behaviors including sexual predators and eliminating their criminal behavior from the ranks,” Marilyn Burden, who served in the Wyoming Air National Guard for 17 years, told the Wyoming Truth. “The evidence may not be ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ in order to get a conviction in civilian or military court. But ‘preponderance of the evidence’ should be enough for eventual dishonorable discharge from the military.”
Burden, now retired, worked as a sexual assault response coordinator and equal opportunity officer in Cheyenne before transferring to the Colorado Air Reserve to escape what she called a “toxic command climate” within the Wyoming’s Military Department.
“Sexual assault is the most underreported crime in the country; I believe this is also true for the military,” she added.
In the current fiscal year, the Wyoming Military Department recorded 11 reported sexual assault incidents, according to data provided to a legislative committee last week. Most of these reported cases, seven of them, occurred during the current fiscal year while the rest were from previous years. One incident occurred in fiscal year 2021, and three took place in fiscal year 2020.Comparatively, 16 incidents were reported during the last fiscal year, an annual report shows, translating to a 31% drop in cases.
Addressing the Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee meeting, Wyoming National Guard Adjutant General Greg Porter said he doesn’t believe “we have a culture in the Wyoming Military Department of sexual violence,” but acknowledged that it occurs in society.
“Prevention is where our heads are at,” he said.
Three of the sexual assault cases are restricted, and no data is available.
Five cases are unrestricted; three involved the Wyoming Army National Guard and two involved the Wyoming Air National Guard. Of these, local law enforcement is still investigating one case. Another case reviewed by law enforcement didn’t meet “sexual assault threshold” and was closed, the annual report states. In that case, the military member received a no contact order prohibiting contact with a specific person but no administrative punishment due to lack of evidence.
Three cases are categorized as limited participation, meaning that affected individuals have been offered services but have not officially reported the incidents.
The Wyoming Military Department also received a formal sexual harassment complaint that an investigator substantiated, and the offender was punished accordingly, the report states.
Porter said there are a small number of individuals who lack the maturity, experience, training and emotional intelligence to always conduct themselves in a professional manner, especially when alcohol is involved.
The general also cited the steps the military department took in 2023 to address sexual assault and harassment, including establishing required sexual assault training for all state employees; mandating commanders and senior-enlisted leaders attend sexual assault prevention and response trainings; conducting a monthly case management group review of all sexual assault cases; and developing a QR code to improve identified sexual harassment data reporting gaps.
For 2024, the department will add bystander training and conduct an ongoing review of closed cases. As outlined in the report, it will also train investigating officers to expedite internal sexual harassment investigations, offer a summary of the annual sexual harassment and assault report to its leadership team, and hold perpetrators accountable through administrative punishment.
The military department’s Integrated Primary Prevention Workforce, which will add a tactical prevention specialist position next year, also will provide training, education and trend analysis on sexual harassment and misconduct to its roughly 3,500 members.
“I think you guys are on the right track; I think we already see a decline [in sexual misconduct cases]…but, as you stated in there, the goal is zero,” Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne), the committee’s co-chairman, said during the meeting. “I think I speak for the committee when I say we support that wholeheartedly.”
Rather than striving to have no victims, Burden said attention should be shifted to achieve a different goal.
“The adjutant general’s goal needs to be perpetrator-focused and attainable,” Burden said. “For example, 100% of perpetrators will be held accountable versus having zero victims. Messaging matters. One he has authority over, and the other he does not.”