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The Wisconsin National Guard will be under federal review for its handling of sexual assault and harassment, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin announced Wednesday.

The development comes after National Guard service members came forward with allegations of sexual assault and harassment, and that they witnessed retaliation and a lack of accountability for the alleged perpetrators of sexual assault within the ranks.

The National Guard Bureau’s Office of Complex Investigations (OCI) is set to conduct an assessment into the Wisconsin National Guard’s handing of such complaints, Evers and Baldwin said.

Their announcement comes after the two in March requested the office conduct an independent review of the Wisconsin National Guard’s sexual assault and reporting procedures, investigation protocols and accountability measures.

“The bottom line is that our service members deserve to work in an environment that’s free of sexual assault and harassment and the fear they might face retaliation for reporting sexual assault or harassment when it happens,” Evers said in a statement. “I am hopeful that OCI’s thorough, impartial review will help us to ensure the safety of our folks in uniform.”

‘Very serious allegations dating back decades’

The review by the OCI comes as the U.S. Air Force investigates allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the Wisconsin Air National Guard, which came at Baldwin’s request after Jay Ellis, a master sergeant and member of the 115th Fighter Wing at Madison’s Truax Field, raised “very serious allegations dating back decades.”

Jacqueline Albright, inspector general for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, told Baldwin in a December letter her office had conducted a review of the information Ellis provided and was taking additional investigative steps.

The Associated Press first reported on the allegations and Baldwin’s request for an investigation. The AP reported the Wisconsin National Guard received 52 reports of sexual assault between 2013 and 2017.

Considered a top priority

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Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, requested Major General Donald Dunbar, the Wisconsin National Guard’s top official, review the organization’s sexual harassment and sexual assault policies and procedures. Dunbar in a March 7 letter wrote that the Wisconsin National Guard has a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment, and that the issue is one of the organization’s top priorities.

Fitzgerald said he still had concerns about the organization’s standard operating procedures.

Wisconsin National Guard spokesman Joe Trovato in an email said the organization “welcomes a thorough and independent review of our sexual assault and harassment program.”

National Guard members who want to share concerns or complaints regarding sexual harassment or assault can send an email to NationalGuardAssessment@wisconsin.gov.

“The bottom line is that our service members deserve to work in an environment that’s free of sexual assault and harassment and the fear they might face retaliation for reporting sexual assault or harassment when it happens.” Gov. Tony Evers

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