In other news concerning our previous story about the sexual assault case of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, the Senate Armed Services Committee is meeting today to discuss the issue of rampant sexual assault in the military. The decision to hold a committee hearing, the first to address the subject in a decade, came after recent outrage over the decision by Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin to overturn Lt. Col. James Wilkerson’s aggravated sexual assault conviction.
In response to the Wilkerson case, Senators Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) demanded an investigation by the Air Force and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The case is just one of many that will be discussed at today’s hearing.
Although about 3,000 sexual assault complaints are filed every year throughout all of the military, estimates suggest that the actual number of sexual assaults occurring per year is around 19,000. Underreporting of sexual assault cases likely results from the fact that victims fear retribution in an environment with an internal justice system that protects offenders.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who chairs the Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, believes the hearing today will be an opportunity to ask tough questions. According to Gillibrand, “We have to have a climate where these cases, No.1, are reported, No. 2, are prosecuted, and No. 3, are convicted – and those who are convicted are expelled from the military.”
Listen to a testimony by former fighter jet mechanic and sexual assault victim, Jessica Hinves, on NPR’s Here & Now
Alisha Mims is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.