In 2010, there were approximately 3,200 sexual assaults reported within the U.S. military. As you are shaking your head over that figure, consider this — research suggests that that number represents only 14 percent of the sexual assaults that actually happened in the armed forces that year.
Yet a row of military leaders with all their shining medals and awards decorating their uniforms told a Senate hearing this week that the process in place to address the 19,000 sexual assaults that are believed to have occurred in that one year is designed to “maintain order and discipline.”
One U.S. Senator isn’t buying their story. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) could barely contain her disbelief or her anger during the testimony as she and others questioned Pentagon officials on the lack of consequences for members of the military who commit sexual assault:
I’m pretty sure Senator Gillibrand almost swore at that row of military men. Using profanity or not, the truly profane aspect is what sparked her ire in the first place –a report about one particular episode of alleged assault:
“Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, an F-16 pilot rated by his superiors as the ‘best of the best,’ is at the center of a storm over sexual assault in the military. …
“As a trial record provided by Air Force Times shows, Wilkerson was convicted of groping a 49-year-old woman last year at Aviano Air Base in Italy. He was sentenced to one year in prison and dismissed from the Air Force.”
Wilkerson’s commanding general overturned the verdict, claiming that the evidence didn’t prove Wilkerson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is working on legislation to be introduced that would make it more difficult for military jury verdicts in cases like these to be reversed unilaterally, as happened in the Wilkerson case. While it is a positive move for victims of sexual assault that there are elected officials on Capitol Hill willing to take this problem seriously, it’s even more refreshing to see at least one person get visibly angry at the response by the military that they are, in essence, just following rules and doing the best that they can.