BANGOR — The Maine National Guard is proposing steps including partnering with the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault to improve its handling of sexual assault and harassment within its ranks.

Leaders pledged in a 22-page report submitted to the Legislature to improve the Guard’s handling of such cases. The report will be taken up by the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Friday, the Bangor Daily News reported.

The focus on sexual harassment and assault follows reporting by the newspaper on a spike in substantiated sexual assaults that corresponded with a permissive attitude toward harassment, mishandling of assault allegations and retaliation against personnel who reported assaults.

The report suggests creating an advisory council to review its sexual assault and harassment policies, partnering with the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault and asking lawmakers for a seat on Maine’s Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse Council.

The Maine National Guard already created two full-time positions to serve as liaisons with victims and civilian law enforcement, and the adjutant general – the guard’s top military leader – plans to begin updating the governor and lawmakers regularly on statistics relating to the problem.

The Guard also suggested legislation to strengthen its power to impose restraining orders on soldiers accused of assault while off base and to make funds available to pay for women to travel to court proceedings. States such as Vermont and Wisconsin have called for independent investigations, but the Maine National Guard’s recommendations do not go that far.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills will soon issue an executive order to form the advisory panel and require it to make recommendations by Dec 1.

“The governor considers this report and the forthcoming advisory council as a first step in the effort to support members of the guard who have suffered sexual harassment or assault,” said Lindsay Crete, a spokesperson for the governor.

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