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NEWS | Oct. 28, 2014

California National Guard earns sexual assault prevention award

By Brandon Honig California National Guard

SACRAMENTO - The California National Guard (CNG) was honored Monday with the Defense Department's inaugural Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award, recognizing California as the state whose National Guard made the greatest impact in sexual assault prevention during the past year.

The CNG Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program developed and implemented numerous initiatives during the past year that enhanced prevention efforts, ensured a rapid and compassionate response for victims and disciplined individuals found to have violated the law.

"Sexual assault and harassment severely impair unit readiness and morale, and they violate everything for which the Army and Air Force stand," said Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, the Adjutant General of the CNG. "This award reflects the great work our team has done focusing on support for victims, conducting thorough and fair investigations and holding offenders accountable when found guilty of violating the law."

Among other initiatives, the CNG appointed a full-time sexual assault investigator, which increased the ability to track cases, expedite civil investigative processes and provide accurate and timely updates to victims. The CNG also certified three lawyers as special victims counsel and worked to identify shortfalls in its statewide victim advocate program. The CNG now has more than 115 victim advocates who cover every corner of the state.

"We have made great strides instilling confidence that victims' reports will be handled swiftly, properly and without retaliation," said CNG Sexual Assault Response Coordinator Jennifer Lucero. "General Baldwin and the CNG's senior leaders have made prevention of sexual assault and harassment a top priority, and their dedication has created an atmosphere that deters these awful crimes."

The CNG also led an effort with state legislators to craft and pass Senate Bill 1422, a law that mandates all allegations of sexual assault be referred to civilian prosecutorial agencies, which can seek tougher sentences than military courts. If civilian agencies decline the case, the suspect will be subject to military justice.

To increase awareness of sexual assault, the CNG launched a "Start by Believing" campaign - an effort to change the culture around how complaints of sexual assault are received, encouraging a non-judgmental and supportive first response - and collected hundreds of signatures from CNG members who pledged to supportively respond to victims. The CNG also held several events during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April to increase awareness and support organizations that counter the crime.

The Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award recognizes groups or individuals from each of the six military services or components for contributing or developing an innovative idea, concept, methodology or approach to positively impact the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.