Sexual Assault is a federal crime. Staff Sergeant Victoria McGuinn, as previously reported, was the unfortunate victim of said crime. Beginning in February 2020 and continuing to March 2021, then SGT McGuinn was targeted and touched on multiple occasions by her Officer in Charge, CPT Smith. Coming up to a woman and touching their left breast with your finger and hand to “tickle” them while making strange noises and then placing your hand in another woman’s yoga pants pocket to “see how deep it was” is unequivocally sexual assault. In no organization is this practice allowed or acceptable…or so one would think.
The Army has rules and regulations, codified in Army Regulations (AR), that guide the day to day affairs of the Army. AR 600-20, Army Command Policy, details the responsibilities of all Army commanders as well as step by step instructions on how to deal with certain situations. Portions of this regulation can lead to punishment for individuals who do not follow the regulation. Sexual Assault and Harassment is one of those situations. All a commander has to do when faced with a situation they are made aware of is open the regulation, read, and follow the steps. Unfortunately, multiple Officers and Senior Enlisted members from the Warrior Training Center on Fort Benning, GA. all the way up to the Maneuver Center of Excellence leadership were unable to accomplish the simple task of reading. This failure would lead to an unnecessary series of events that has denied SSG McGuinn justice to this day.
Title 10 U.S. Code § 920 describes the federal crime of Sexual Assault within the Military. This crime is placed into Article 120 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). In it, it describes the various types of Sexual Assault and what generally constitutes a violation. Abusive Sexual Contact is listed under the umbrella of Sexual Assault in paragraph D and states: “Any person subject to this chapter who commits or causes sexual contact upon or by another person, if to do so would violate subsection (b) (sexual assault) had the sexual contact been a sexual act, is guilty of abusive sexual contact and shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.” To further clarify, the Code goes on to define Sexual Contact as “touching, or causing another person to touch, either directly or through the clothing, the vulva, penis, scrotum, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade any person or to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person. Touching may be accomplished by any part of the body or an object.”
The Army SHARP Program encompasses Sexual Harassment & Assault along with commander responsibilities within the program. This is found in Chapter 7 of AR 600-20. If an issue is brought up and anyone within the chain of command is unclear on what to do, opening the regulation and reading will point them in the right direction.
After repeated attempts to communicate her OICs inappropriate actions fell on deaf ears with her chain of command and NCO support chain, then SGT McGuinn had enough of the situation when her OIC walked by her, ran his hand across her face, and stroked her ear on 05 March 2021. SGT McGuinn made it known to her First Sergeant that she wanted to file an unrestricted report on the entire situation and was put in contact with her battalion Command Sergeant Major. The battalion leadership’s follow on actions after this moment is unclear, but at some point a CCIR (Commanders Critical Information Requirement) report regarding the incident is created and signed by a Major who is the Battalion Operations Officer.
Instead of calling the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division at Ft. Benning to report the Sexual Harassment and Assault Sgt McGuinn had experienced over the last year, SGT McGuinn’s company and battalion leadership seemingly ignore their role and responsibility towards her as a victim entirely. Had they been confused on what to do, simply opening AR 600-20 to the entire chapter dedicated to Sexual Harassment and Assault and reading the steps would direct them to immediately contact Army CID. It is important to note that “Leaders who fail to address complaints or document sexual harassment may also be subject to punitive and/or adverse administrative action (AR 600-20 CH 7)” Her leadership responds by providing her with a non-functioning two year old phone number to a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator.
A Company Command Wrong at Every Turn
The next day, 06 March 2021, her company commander, who is still a company commander at the Warrior Training Center, initiated a commander’s inquiry in violation of the steps laid out in Chapter 7 of AR 600-20. This company commander questions SGT McGuinn and 4 other members of her team. The company commander again violates Army Command Policy by conducting a “credibility assessment” of Sgt McGuinn’s unrestricted report request despite multiple eyewitnesses corroborating her accounting of events. During the company commander’s closed door illegal questioning of Sgt McGuinn, without a Victim Advocate or Sexual Assault Response Coordinator present, he proceeds to direct Sgt McGuinn to downplay the multiple incidents through leading and suggestive questioning. Repeated questions like “you don’t actually feel like this was sexual in nature do you?” and “it doesn’t sound very sexual, are you sure?” are lobbed at SGT McGuinn who hours earlier opted to file an unrestricted report. It is only after the repeated and confrontational questioning that the victim, Sgt McGuinn, is coerced to agree that the latest incident is not sexual in nature. These actions by the company commander have disastrous effects towards future investigations and advocacy to this day. The paper trail is difficult to follow at this point as the only evidence of the company commander conducting a commander’s inquiry (in violation of the regulations) is a Memorandum for Record (MFR) dated 11 March 2021 summing up his findings that is later attached to a follow-on investigation without the sworn statements he claimed he gathered. What is clear in the company commander’s MFR is his conclusion that there were multiple incidents with witnesses corroborating the events of each incident where CPT Smith harassed and assaulted SGT McGuinn and that some violation of the UCMJ has occurred.
Doing Everything the Manual Says to Not Do
Sgt McGuinn’s Battalion Commander initiates a formal investigation and assigns an Investigating Officer (IO) to conduct the investigation on 15 March 2021. This is all done in violation of standard Army procedures and regulation. No company or battalion leadership at this point has contacted Army CID to report the harassment and assault as they are required to do by AR 600-20. What is additionally disturbing is that the Battalion Commander, who is now serving in a headquarters position at Fort Polk, initiated this investigation and kept it at his level despite multiple locations of Army Command Policy stating that he will not initiate a 15-6 (investigation) and that he must contact Army CID. For example, the company commander clearly describes in his MFR events that are of a sexual nature and that violate UCMJ. AR 600-20 Chapter 7-8 highlights how this battalion commander violated Army Command Policy by stating “Complaints involving reports of criminal behavior (that is, violations of UCMJ) will be reported or referred to law enforcement.”
We acquired the AR 15-6 investigation complete with sworn statements. This investigation is extremely poorly conducted, fraught with errors, conflicting in Army policy and regulation, and reeks of protectionism. The investigation is so poor, it requires its own article that will be reported on at a later date. It is terrifying that the investigation passed legal review through Fort Benning’s JAG office; although given the fact that Fort Benning’s JAG, a Colonel, signed off on the administrative reprimand mentioned below, it is no surprise.
Assaulter Free to Re-offend in the Army
Justice delayed is justice denied. Throughout the myriad of violations mentioned above, the only person tangibly punished in the entire ordeal is SSG McGuinn who was fired from the Warrior Training Center in a disgusting act of reprisal and retaliation. SSG McGuinn’s assaulter is still free to conduct Army duties in his unit. The only “punishment” he received is an administrative reprimand in the form of a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMOR) given to him by the former embattled commanding General of Fort Benning MCoE, Major General Patrick Donahoe.
This former commanding General signed his name to a reprimand that even includes the admission that CPT Smith committed a crime. It seems that the former Fort Benning commander was too busy “defending women online” to actually defend women and victims in his own command. What message do we want to send to America’s currently serving sons and daughters and the prospective future sons and daughters who may join? That they will join a service that seemingly follows no rule of law or it’s own regulations and that if they are ever sexually assaulted and harassed that they can almost guarantee they will never find justice?