Faced with allegations that the Wyoming Military Department is plagued by a culture of sexual assault and harassment and that victims are met with excuses, suspicion, hostility and retaliation, Maj. General Gregory Porter says he’s going to great lengths to “root out” offenders.
“If we have predators in our ranks, they don’t need to be here,” Porter, the adjutant general of the Wyoming Military Department, told members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee last week.
Porter briefed lawmakers because of previous legislative efforts to increase oversight of the Wyoming National Guard following complaints from veterans and military employees and a 2021 WyoFile investigation that spotlighted whistleblowers’ stories. Lawmakers responded by passing legislation in 2022 requiring the military department to complete and present an annual report to the Legislature that includes statistics on all formal and informal complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination and sexual assault.
Doing so at a Thursday meeting in Cheyenne, Porter told lawmakers that there were 11 reports of sexual assault logged in the last fiscal year, though some of the alleged offenses took place in prior years. Additionally, he said, there was one formal complaint of sexual harassment that led to administrative punishment.
“I don’t believe we have a culture in the Wyoming Military Department of sexual violence,” Porter said. “I do think we have a small number of individuals, though, that may lack the training, the emotional maturity [and] the ability to conduct themselves in the manner that they’re supposed to, particularly if you put alcohol in them.”
The 11 reports represent a roughly 31% drop from fiscal year 2022, when there were 16 reported incidents.
“I don’t think you can look at that and guarantee that just because fewer [sexual assault] cases were reported, fewer cases happened,” committee chairman and Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne) told WyoFile.
Sexual assault is notoriously underreported. Nearly two-thirds of incidents are not reported to police, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Still, Brown said you can look at the drop in known Wyoming Military Department incidents optimistically.
“In my opinion, the less cases reported, the better,” Brown said.
Marilyn Burden, who served in the Wyoming Air National Guard for 17 years before leaving in 2018, was more skeptical of the significance of the on-paper decline.
“Congratulations, you went from 16 to 11,” Burden said. “Between reporting one sexual harassment case and 11 sexual assaults, you’re still averaging one per month.”
Getting sexual assault numbers down to zero is out of the guard’s hands, Burden said. Sometimes offenses take place off base and in environments where military officials don’t have authority. Still, she called for an institutional culture that punishes all known military perpetrators regardless of whether legal action is taken.
“Something that’s actually actionable for Gen. Porter would be [creating] consequences for 100% of perpetrators,” Burden said.
In Brown’s view, to even be having the conversation is a step in the right direction for the Wyoming Military Department. The 2022 statute that requires the annual report also implores military officials to prepare procedures to respond to sexual harassment, discrimination and assault, as well as “corrective action plans” and recommendations for legislation.
“Having actionable items in the Legislature’s hands and in the governor’s hands, is, in my opinion, priority No. 1,” Brown said. “It’s something that we can hold them accountable for as we move forward.”
Porter walked Brown and the other committee members through how the Wyoming National Guard handles allegations that are sexual in nature — and corrective actions being taken. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission put the guard on notice three times in a decade for workplace hostility, including the mishandling of sexual harassment.
Among the steps the Wyoming National Guard is taking is requiring more “bystander training” for its Sexual Assault Prevention Team, Porter said. The adjutant general lauded the curriculum.
“It was probably the most effective training I’ve ever been in,” Porter said. “It just means that if you see something going on you step in and prevent that from happening.”