List the consequences for committing sexual assault… for members of the Catholic clergy or the United States military. Having trouble? That’s because consequences are rare, and rarely fit the crime. In the latest sexual assault injustice, Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was found guilty of sexual assault last November and, as punishment, he will not be receiving a promotion to colonel.
Last November, Wilkerson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault by an all-male jury at his court-martial at Aviano Air Base in Italy. He was sentenced to a year of jail time, and dismissal from the Air Force. Then last month, Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, called for Wilkerson’s release and overruled his conviction, returning him to active duty.
During his trial in November, Wilkerson begged the jury not to rip his family apart, and promised he would retire immediately if the jury would not take away his benefits. He was accused of molesting a houseguest during the night, with his wife and 9-year-old son in the home. According to the victim, Wilkerson was caught in the act when his wife walked into the room around 3 a.m. The woman was thrown out of the house, shoeless, but Wilkerson’s wife later testified that she threw the woman out after she found her wandering the house, and that her husband never left his bed that night.
Prosecutor, Capt. Ben Beliles, suggested that the assault could have escalated had Wilkerson’s wife not intervened. He also said that Wilkerson’s pleas regarding the monetary consequences to his family were tactless considering he showed no remorse for his actions, and that his wife had concocted a story with him as to why she threw the woman out, and had lied in her testimony to the court. “It must not be said that Lt. Col. Wilkerson got away with a slap on the wrist,” said Beliles.
The overturn of Wilkerson’s conviction comes at a bad time for the U.S. military. The Air Force has recently been dealing with the Lackland Air Base scandal, in which 32 training instructors are accused of having “inappropriate or coercive sexual relationships” with 59 recruits, with charges ranging from assault to adultery and rape. Other branches of the military are experiencing similar problems, and the Senate Armed Services Committee is set to hold a hearing on sexual assault problems in the military on Wednesday.
The decision to overturn Wilkerson’s conviction has sparked outrage among many, including some U.S. Senators like Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri). McCaskill is calling for the conviction to be reinstated, and for Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin to be removed from his post. “This stunning decision demonstrates a total disregard for the survivors of sexual assault and for the findings of the military justice system,” McCaskill wrote.
Alisha Mims is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.