Utah National Guard is working to eradicate an ‘ecosystem of abuse.’ How a U. law professor is helping.

Amos Guiora is collecting stories from guard members past and present to help the state force refine how it approaches abuse.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora talks about his partnership with the Utah National Guard to prevent abusive behavior within the force during an interview in his office on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Less than a minute after the Utah National Guard announced it was partnering with University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora to curtail abusive behavior, his cellphone began ringing with troops calling to share their stories.

A child of Holocaust survivors, Guiora has dedicated his career to documenting instances where individuals and institutions have enabled acts of violence to occur. As a former judge advocate in the Israeli Defense Forces, Guiora says he’s familiar with military settings and how they can allow an “ecosystem of abuse” to thrive.

While instances of sexual assault are not new in the Utah National Guard, discussions about how the guard approaches them came to a head last year when its top commander, then-Maj. Gen. Michael Turley, was dismissed after an Army investigation ended with a “substantiated finding” of an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

“When senior leaders have prohibited relationships, that does impact things like sexual assault, the environment,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph Green, who was recently promoted to assistant adjutant general and has overseen a task force to reduce abusive behavior in the guard.

In an interview, Green said that Guiora’s book — “Armies of Enablers: Survivor Stories of Complicity and Betrayal in Sexual Assaults” — changed his perspective on assault prevention and he asked Guiora to mentor him.

“We’ve always thought in terms of the perpetrator and not necessarily the people [and] the culture around the perpetrator — [people] who in different positions might have seen what was going on and didn’t say anything, or thought that was just so-and-so being so-and-so, that’s just how he always is,” Green said. “So when I read this, it was eye-opening for me to think about other people in the ecosystem, and how do we change that?”

Two years prior to Turley’s departure, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that members of the guard sent an anonymous letter to Gov. Spencer Cox complaining that Turley had made violent threats toward soldiers and airmen, mishandled sexual misconduct cases and was “responsible for a hostile and unhealthy work environment.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Members of the Utah National Guard at Governor's Day at Camp Williams on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023.

A subsequent command climate survey, conducted at Cox’s request and obtained by The Tribune, found that 29% of the 70 respondents said there was a “presence of sexually harassing behaviors” in their unit, and 20% said their unit had “racially harassing behaviors.”

A handful of those surveyed said a guard member who reports sexual assault or harassment would be blamed for causing problems in the unit, and that they would be discouraged from moving forward with the report.

Green told The Tribune that the climate survey results made him realize the guard needs to boost members’ confidence that commanders will take reports of bad behavior seriously.

Over the past several years, National Guard units in Utah and nationwide have seen sexual assault reports on the rise. The number of reported sexual assaults in the Utah Guard jumped from three in fiscal 2021 to 18 in 2022. Thirteen were reported in 2023.

Green suspects those numbers understate the actual counts, citing anecdotes from sexual assault response coordinators of guard members coming to their offices to ask questions and leaving without filing a report.

“That concerned me because it meant that we also, like the community around us, have underreporting going on, and we don’t want that,” Green said. “We want a higher percentage of reporting, we want to be able to take care of them, we want to be able to hold perpetrators accountable when it happens.”

The partnership with Guiora is one of a series of efforts by the Utah National Guard’s Dignity and Respect Task Force. Recently, the guard established an agreement with Utah’s State Bureau of Investigation that it would handle all abuse complaints within the force rather than it having to coordinate with a patchwork of local law enforcement.

Guiora is interviewing current and former members of the guard who are willing to share their stories. Utah’s assistant adjutant general said that those who reach out to the law professor will have anonymity, but he hopes that speaking with Guiora will help them feel empowered to seek accountability.

When he assumed command of the Utah National Guard, newly appointed Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Daniel Boyack promised to “never have anything in my conduct that would give you reason to question my integrity or my resolve,” and asked the same of the soldiers and airmen.

Under the current leadership, Green said he feels like there isn’t an “old boy system,” and he has started looking at those above perpetrators when abuse complaints come in to consider whether the guard needs to take administrative action.

“Let’s close that reporting gap,” Green said. “Then maybe we can get a more productive ecosystem.”

The Salt Lake Tribune sat down with Guiora to discuss his approach to documenting abuse within the Utah National Guard. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What drew you to forming a partnership with the Utah National Guard?

For me, it’s a perfect manifestation of my work.

The intersection between complicity and enabling accentuates the harm of the vulnerable individual, and most people will field it back to the perpetrator. Frankly, I don’t find that particularly interesting. To me, it’s more about the institutional complicity and the ecosystem of enabling.

I was delighted the guard and I were able to form this relationship, and I think it’s obviously an issue that’s crying out to be addressed wherever, not only in the Utah National Guard.

In the announcement of the partnership, you asked for members of the Utah National Guard to reach out to you about their experiences. Have you heard from anyone?

It took about 32 seconds for people to reach out. That’s exactly what the desired result was.

The only way to address this issue is for me, as the outsider, to create these relationships with people. I’m the honest broker and I will present material to the guard and enable them to address these situations.

The fact that people reached out to me — literally, I’m not exaggerating — within 32 seconds is, I think, from the guard’s perspective exactly what they were hoping for.

When it publicized the partnership, the guard emphasized that you are outside the chain of command, and that you are an external observer. You have a military background — why do you think that’s important in this situation?

As someone who served in the [Israeli] military for 20 years, I well understand the chain of command. The advantage of someone outside the chain of command is that he or she is not perceived as — I don’t like the word, but it’s the word that’s out there — as tainted, right? As part of the system.

I may modestly suggest that I have three advantages: One, I am the person who’s written on this; two, I am the outsider; and three, that I also served in the military. So I understand the structure, I understand — what do they call it in the police, the “thin blue line.”

I’m also well aware of the responsibility and the privilege that comes with that. People are reaching out to me to meet with me because they are entrusting me with their stories. I take that extremely seriously because if you earn someone’s trust, it’s easy as hell to lose that.

The fact that people are reaching out to me is a sign that, A: Clearly there’s a need here. And B: They feel that they can trust me with their story.

You talked about how the equivalent of the “thin blue line” exists within the military. How is that created, and which members of the military are most vulnerable when that’s present?

The “thin blue line,” or whatever the military axiom would be, it’s protecting the brand, or the institution. If you were to hold the enablers in the ecosystem accountable, it’s sending a message to the most vulnerable that we understand that as bad as the perp was, it’s [the system] that’s responsible.

[Former Michigan State University softball player] Tiffany Thomas Lopez, who was assaulted by [sports doctor] Larry Nassar, [told me] — her words not my words — “They superf---ed me.” When I asked her, “Who superf---ed you?” it wasn’t Larry Nassar, it was the enablers.

And I think she articulated it 100% correctly, that from the perspective of someone who had been assaulted by Larry Nassar [multiple] times, he didn’t occupy any real estate in her brain.

But when we reverse engineer what happened to her and we were able to identify the enablers, “They superf---ed me.” That’s exactly right. And from her perspective, they’re the ones who need to be held accountable.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora, who has a partnership with the Utah National Guard to prevent abusive behavior within the force, sits for a portrait on Thursday, March 14, 2024.

Within the Utah National Guard, as I go forward, if I can show that person A, person B, person C [are enablers], those are the kinds of the people who, if I were a legislator, which I’m not, I would say those are the kinds of people we need to act against.

And if I were the head of the Utah National Guard, which I’m not, I could come to [Utah officials or the U.S. Department of Defense] and say, “Listen, here’s how the g--d---ed thing works.” Boom, boom, boom, sequencing it for them. I think that would make a powerful case in terms of how they re-articulate who’s accountable.

You worked with state Rep. Brian King in passing legislation to expand mandatory reporting of abuse in Utah. Do you think that the Legislature needs to do more work in terms of criminal penalties for bystanders?

I think we’ve only scratched the surface. I think that the bystander bill, which looked into mandatory reporting a couple years ago, [is] essential, critical, important. The next step is legislation that criminalizes the enabler.

It’s a huge challenge because, for many legislators and jurists, the notion of enabler and bystander is a crime of omission rather than commission. And there’s a challenge here to convince. We established the Bystander Initiative at the law school, that’s a part of all this.

The idea is to work with legislators in terms of criminalizing the bystander and the enabler. All of these writing projects, testimony and everything else feeds into this, at the end of the day, to hold people accountable.

Is there action the Legislature should take when it comes to the environment in the Utah National Guard?


I think that, too, would send a clear message both to the perpetrators and, maybe even more importantly, to the survivor that the Legislature acting on behalf of the people understands that it is an ecosystem that directly led to the harm.

If you’re serious about addressing the issue, that’s what must be the target of state legislative action, or in the case of the Utah National Guard, command decision.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges that the Utah National Guard faces in addressing abusive behavior?

Shout out to the Utah National Guard for being willing to address this head-on. A lot of institutions duck and hide and, in less-elegant English, BS their way through it.

The challenge, like with any institution, is coming to the institution and saying, “I met with these people, they shared with me, they talked with me and we see clearly a pattern of behavior here,” if that’s indeed what I will see.

[Addressing] that will require A: educational efforts, and B: what survivors tell me all the time, which is that more than anything they want to see accountability.

They don’t want those warm words, “Gosh, shucks, we are with you all the way.” Those mantras don’t really carry much weight. As a matter of fact, more often than not, those mantras are offensive to survivors. They don’t want to hear, “We’re with you,” and all that. They want to see change.

I think that based on what I learn, what I gather, what I write, if that indeed is something that’s justified, I think that’s exactly why the guard reached out.

Where would you like to see the work you’re doing with the Utah National Guard end up?

Three-part answer.

One — and I think we’ve already taken that step — is an acknowledgment that enablers exist.

Two is giving credence to survivors, of their understanding, to whatever extent, that the harm caused to them was not only by the perp. It was in some ways more egregious by the enabler.

The third part is education and training. In addition, where people need to be held accountable, to hold them accountable.

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