EDITORIAL

Increased awareness is never a negative

Posted

Although a resolution by Representative Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-21 District, Warwick) to set up a panel of five people to objectively investigate sexual harassment claims within the Rhode Island National Guard was ultimately unsuccessful, the base merits of the resolution stand out as praiseworthy nonetheless.

The men and women who volunteer to be a part of the nation’s reserve military force have enough to worry about – physically and mentally – without having to worry about being sexually harassed while performing their duties.

If what Rep. Vella-Wilkinson claims is true, and dozens of complaints have been levied by members of the Rhode Island National Guard since she was a city councilor in Warwick, then there is certainly value in looking into the issue, whether that comes in a targeted effort from a new panel or in the form of a heightened sense of awareness from the National Guard itself.

It is appropriate that Vella-Wilkinson would be the one to shake the tree on this issue as well. She is a 20-year veteran of the United States Navy, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander. She helped craft training programs for naval officers to better identify and prevent sexual harassment within their ranks, and she was appointed to be a hearing officer for discrimination complaints (including sexual harassment) as a member of the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights after leaving the service.

The point is also well-taken, however, that the National Guard believes a separate panel would infringe on their organizational efforts to handle sexual harassment in house. Brigadier General Christopher Callahan, who also serves as the Adjutant General and Commander of the Rhode Island National Guard, gave a compelling and sensible testimony at the State House on June 20 which indicated that they take the issue of sexual misconduct seriously but that it is not a big enough problem to warrant the creation of such a panel. He testified that that was only one reported case during his 22-month tenure and that that was “handled appropriately.”

We are glad to hear such a report, and we truly hope it is an unbiased, accurate representation of the situation. The National Guard has said that they are “committed to providing additional info that may educate the [Veterans’ Affairs] Committee and the public regarding our efforts to eradicate this type of behavior,” and that they are also committed to having an “open dialogue” regarding the subject.

We will do our best to ensure they honor this commitment, not just for the public’s benefit, but also for the protection of the men and women who surrender their own comfort and safety to protect our own.

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