Serving in Silence: New W.Va. Legislation in Response to I-Team Investigation

West Virginia Delegate Barbara Fleischauer (D — 51st District) said she was alarmed when a News4 I-Team investigation revealed West Virginia’s National Guard doesn’t have a way to criminally punish soldiers accused of rape or sexual assault.

“According to Lt. Col. James, there’s no procedure for court martialing at all in West Virginia under these circumstances,” she told the I-Team.

Last week, we introduced you to Lt. Col. Teresa James, the highest ranking Guard member to come forward with a rape allegation in the nation since the National Guard Bureau started tracking these crimes.

Lt. Col. James told the I-Team she waited six years before reporting her rape, fearing her 34-year career with the WV National Guard would be destroyed.

Which, she said, is exactly what happened.

“Her career was ruined and she is being forced into retirement,” Del. Fleischauer said in a recent interview inside the West Virginia state house. “That should not happen to a victim. We want to make our victims whole and we don’t want them doubly punished for something when they want justice.”

Even though Congress recently passed major reforms to combat sexual assault in the military, the I-Team found most don't apply to National Guard units across the country because they are state militias, which must follow their respective state laws.

When we spoke with the head of the West Virginia National Guard, Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer, he insisted Lt. Col. James was not retaliated against and he did not think West Virginia needed to change the state's Uniform Code of Military Justice.

"We don't have the mechanism, we don't have a criminal investigation division, so we have to rely on our civil law enforcement partners who have the experience, the crime labs, who have all those things in place,” Gen. Hoyer said. “So, I think right now, based on what we have and the relationship we have with our folks in the civilian court system and law enforcement, we have the tools we need."

Lt. Col. James said the statute of limitations in her case ran out.

California lawmakers just eliminated their statute of limitations for rape in the military — one of several states that have recently overhauled their laws to protect service members from sex assaults.

Del. Fleischauer wants West Virginia to be next.

In response to our investigation, she's introduced House Concurrent Resolution 155. It has 14 co-sponsors and creates a special committee to study what Fleischauer calls "a very complicated issue" so the House can craft a sex assault bill to prevent retaliation and properly prosecute offenders.

She said she fears if they don't do something now, it could potentially lead to a dangerous problem inside the Guard for future rape survivors. "If they hear about what happened to Lt. Col. James, they won't come forward."

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