A female soldier was physically and sexually assaulted on Fort Benning in 2020. After telling her chain of command (CoC) about the abuse, they initially dismissed it and ignored the complaints. After it continued to happen, only more aggressively, she elevated the complaints up the chain of command and tried to file a SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention) report. While her complaint was acknowledged by her command, a SHARP report was intentionally not filed at the direction of her Battalion Commander. Now, after two and a half years of trying to pursue justice through her chain of command, IG (Inspector General) complaints, SHARP reports, Congressional Inquiries, and losing her active duty job in reprisal for her actions, the perpetrator of the assaults against this soldier continues to be employed by the Army with nothing more than a reprimand for his actions.
Sergeant Victoria McGuinn was an MFT (Master Fitness Trainer) Instructor at Fort Benning in 2020 when the alleged assaults took place. McGuinn was assigned to the schoolhouse on Title 10 active duty orders as a National Guardsman from October 2019 until October of 2021. Her OIC (officer in charge) was Captain Samuel Smith, and for almost a year he touched and grabbed her inappropriately and made inappropriate comments directed at her according to McGuinn and members of their team who gave sworn statements during an investigation.
The touching began in the Summer of 2020. McGuinn and eyewitnesses allege that Smith would tickle her armpits which resulted in the sides of her breasts being touched. The first time it happened, she asked him not to do it again and walked away. Smith’s treatment of McGuinn began to deteriorate during this time as she and other members of the team stated that Smith would single her out with harassing comments and appeared to grade her differently than the others.
McGuinn told me her life started to become a living hell during this time. The unit had a sensing session (where troops are encouraged to air out grievances in a safe environment), and after the session was over, McGuinn and other members of the team collectively took their First Sergeant (1SG) to the side and told him what was taking place. The 1SG asked her what she wanted to do, and she said she just wanted to be treated fairly and not touched. I spoke to several individuals who have all corroborated this meeting with the 1SG. Their recollection of what took place corroborates each other and is also reflected in their sworn statements from two years ago. Nothing came from this sensing session according to McGuinn.
According to his sworn statement, the 1SG claimed this interaction never took place. He stated, “SGT McGuinn never mentioned anything about anyone doing anything inappropriate in the team. CPT Sturges (company commander) did hold a sensing session in early May (2020) with the MFTC Team that I was present for.”
The 1SG went on to state that he was made aware of alleged inappropriate behavior on 5 March 2021 at approximately 1415pst when SGT McGuinn called him to report she was touched on the ear by CPT Smith. He told her he would notify CPT Inglett (the new Company Commander) of the situation immediately and provided her with the unit SHARP and installation SARC representative. He also claims this was the “only complaint of this nature [he] received.” I specifically asked members of the team whether they had made the 1SG aware of CPT Smith’s behavior prior to this phone call, and they stated they had.
According to sworn statements from members of the team, there were others on the receiving end of CPT Smith’s inappropriate behavior though. In the following sworn statement, another female NCO also showed signs of being very uncomfortable with Smith’s presence with inappropriate comments. It’s clear that members of the team were aware of bad behavior directed towards multiple individuals while the company command team claimed they were unaware.
Over the course of several months and inaction on the part of the command team, Smith continued to behave inappropriately towards McGuinn. He would squeeze and grab her arms, grab her shoulders and would come up behind her and play with her hair. While this behavior was witnessed by multiple individuals, it never happened to anyone else other than McGuinn. Smith is even alleged to have grabbed her face and rub her earlobe on one occasion.
The most egregious incident occurred prior to McGuinn attempting to file a SHARP report in March of 2021. According to McGuinn and members of the team who filed sworn statements, they were all gathered around joking when Smith made a reference to putting a dog’s nose in their poop/pee. He then proceeded to grab McGuinn by the back of the neck while pushing her to the ground and telling her “bad, NO.” Several members I interviewed told me it appeared he thought it was funny and was waiting for a laugh, but everyone was too in shock and frozen at what had taken place.
McGuinn called her Command Sergeant Major (CSM) to file an unrestricted SHARP and EO report in March 2021. The CSM then asked if she talked to a SHARP representative and she said she was waiting for a call back. The call never came.
McGuinn’s new Company Commander spoke to her shortly after and told her he was going to conduct a commander’s inquiry into the situation. He proceeded to interview her and her team then informed her the issue was being escalated to battalion where it would be handled from then on. The Battalion Commander (BC) informed her that a 15-6 investigation was being initiated on CPT Smith.
A short time later, Smith was removed from the company and assigned to another building near the company. McGuinn was still running into him in their company area. When she spoke to the CSM about it, he told her Smith should not have been in the company area, but there’s nothing he could do about her running into him in the parking lot.
McGuinn’s team was interviewed by the investigating officer, then a month went by without hearing anything. After approaching multiple support channels in her unit, to include the Chaplain’s office and her CSM again, she eventually discovered that the Fort Benning SARC’s (Sexual Assault Response Coordinator) office had never even been notified of her case. The SARC looked into the issue and discovered McGuinn’s case had never been file as a SHARP report even though she filed it on March 6th, and it was now May. That’s when she discovered an email sent from her BC on March 6th, the same day she filed the report, instructing his subordinates to “hold off on launching to MCoE.”
Throughout the following months, SGT McGuinn was kept in the dark. She didn’t know what had transpired with the investigation, only that CPT Smith was still around. Much later she was informed that Smith had been given a GOMOR (General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand) for his actions. The GOMOR was given to him by the then Commanding General of Fort Benning, MG Patrick Donahoe.
Most of the allegations of Smith’s physical conduct towards McGuinn are substantiated in the GOMOR. Instead of the physical and sexual nature of Smith’s conduct being treated as a crime and prosecuted under the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice), MG Donahoe gave him a reprimand and told him he “behaved in a manner which was unbecoming of an officer and gentleman.”
The negative counselings and bad evaluations McGuinn received began in the Summer of 2021. After over a year of inaction from her CoC, a new BC took command and conducted a town hall meeting. He stated that his 3 S’s are “SHARP, Safety and Standards.” McGuinn kept her mouth shut and didn’t raise her hand as she didn’t feel comfortable discussing her situation due to the current CSM having done nothing to help her. As she was walking away from the meeting, she made a comment of, “if our three S’s are SHARP, Safety and Standards, why the fuck haven’t we had a SARC or VA rep in 18 months.” One of the glaring issues with SGT McGuinn’s CoC dropping the ball was due to the lack of representatives in the unit who were knowledgeable with victim advocacy issues. There were no Victim Advocates or SARCs in the unit. The head of Fort Benning’s SHARP program and the Victim Advocate at 75th Ranger Regiment, another unit assigned to Fort Benning, provided assistance to McGuinn after the fact.
SGT McGuinn’s comment was overheard, and she received a negative counseling for it. Up until this point, she had never received a negative counseling in her entire career. She was told her comment was unbecoming of a Non Commissioned Officer of which she readily admitted. For punishment, she was required to write an essay on professionalism. She ended the essay by stating that she was “tired of not being taking care of and that this was a cry for help because I’m not okay. If we had had the people we need, my situation would have been handled correctly.”
Her commander thanked her for her letter and apology. She then asked to speak directly to the BC to apologize. The BC told her she would have been a hero if she had raised her hand, and he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He asked her if she would like to be the unit SARC, and she agreed that she would do it. She was tasked to find a course and course dates and keep him updated.
Over the next several months, the relationship between her and her CoC continued to deteriorate. She was notified in a counseling in August of 2021 that she was not going to be retained due to her unprofessionalism and noncompliance. Her packet for retention in her current role was already approved, but it was canceled and not approved with little notice.
The events surrounding this case are difficult to relay as they involve dozens of conversations and years of Victoria McGuinn, now a Staff Sergeant, seeking justice for the events that transpired. Her unit lacked the necessary representatives to properly handle her situation, her BC ordered a report not to be filed, her CoC lied on official sworn statements, and at the center of all of it was an individual who was clearly found guilty of the allegations against him as shown on the GOMOR but was allowed to continue his career anyways due to MG Donahoe’s decision to give him a reprimand for assaulting a female soldier instead of the criminal prosecution required for incidents of this type. Victoria McGuinn was assaulted. It was witnessed, confirmed, and yet she’s the one who was ultimately punished when she lost her job as a result of everything that took place. Everyone in SSG McGuinn’s CoC, from the Commanding General all the way down to the Company Commander, failed her.