State leaders are trying to learn more about unreported sexual assault cases from within the Alaska National Guard.
State Sen. Hollis French (D-Anchorage) has asked Gov. Sean Parnell (R-Alaska) to determine how many sexual assault complaints have been made about the Alaska National Guard from 2008 to 2012.
French says the Guard must protect and serve all Alaskans, including its members -- a sentiment with which all parties involved in the matter agreed, when asked.
With recent allegations that the Alaska National Guard is not doing enough to protect its own from sexual assaults, state Sen. Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) says there needs to be change from within.
"If it's one of those things where you sort of turn the eye and there is no discipline that's imposed and if someone is doing this on a regular basis, you need to change that culture," Wielechowski said.
Guard officials say 29 cases of sexual assault involving its members were reported since 2009, with 18 civilian victims and 11 in the military. Law enforcement became involved in 21 of those cases, which were either closed or suspended; in 11 of the cases, victims chose to restrict reporting.
According to Army regulations, which the Guard follows, victims can say they've been sexually assaulted but don't want to report it to law enforcement. This allows them to get the resources available to victims but keep their names confidential.
"Sexual assaults are extremely under-reported, and so if you have several dozen reports of sexual assault there's probably hundreds more," said Sen. Wielechowski.
Maj. Gen. Thomas Katkus, the head of the Alaska National Guard, says in a statement that every allegation of sexual assault is taken seriously.
“These actions have no place in America's work environment and the Alaska National Guard has made a deliberate effort to focus on prevention, victim support, investigations and accountability,” Katkus said in the statement.
Katkus goes on to say the Alaska National Guard is committed to protecting people from sexual assault and ensuring justice is served. He says every report is brought forward to the Guard's senior leadership or its sexual assault response coordinator, and is immediately investigated and relayed to law enforcement.
Wielechowski says that kind of reporting from within should be part of the change in order to get more people coming forward.
"It's very difficult when you have a woman who is abused, who's attacked, and she is forced to go within her chain of command -- and it may be someone who is in her chain of command who is actually her assaulter," Wielechowski said.
Sharon Leighow, a spokesperson for Parnell, says he shares Katkus's concerns about the allegations.
"Gov. Parnell and Gen. Katkus have a zero tolerance policy for harassment, hostile work environments, and sexual assault,” said Sharon Leighow, Parnell's press secretary. "These activities have no place in America's work environment. The governor is committed to ending domestic violence and sexual assault through his Choose Respect initiative across all cultures in Alaska -- including the culture of the military."
Guard spokesperson Lt. Bernie Kale says the Guard have been working with the group Standing Together Against Rape to make sure victims' well-being is the top priority whenever a report is made.