In an internal justice system that protects its criminals, the military has let a sex offender walk away without proper punishment. U.S. Air Force pilot, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson’s conviction of aggravated sexual assault was overturned last month by Lt. Gen Craig A. Franklin. What was supposed to be a sentence of one year in prison, forfeit of pay, and dismissal from the military, has now dwindled down to the inability to receive a promotion to colonel and his relocation to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, as the 12th Air Force Chief of flight safety.
A military jury convicted Wilkerson of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman, after he molested a houseguest during the night, with his wife and 9-year-old son at home. The jury found him guilty of all counts; however the case was overturned because according to Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, the courts could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the allegations occurred.
According to the Air Force Personnel Center the assignment was based upon his qualification and need of the Air force.
Wilkerson has now been assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson to help run the safety program for a unit of F-16 fighter jets.
The case has provoked rowdy congressional hearings and legislation regarding the U.S. military justice system. More importantly, it has drawn more attention to the epidemic of sexual assaults in the military and their reluctance to address the problem.
There were 3,191 reported cases of sexual assault in the military in 2011 but, according to secretary of defense Leon E Panetta, the actual number of cases could be as high as 19,000. The numbers are staggering. One in three women has been sexually assaulted in the military, while fewer than 1 out of 10 reported attackers are held accountable. In fact, women in the armed forces are now more likely to be assaulted by a fellow soldier than they are to be killed in combat.
Wilkerson’s case is not unique. According to Captain Candice Ismirle of Air Force Public Affairs, the Air force has overturned five sexual assault cases within the past five years. The Department of Defense has failed to acknowledge the problem even after scandals such as the Air Force Academy scandal or Tailhook, where 83 women and seven men stated that they had been victims of sexual assault and harassment during the two-day symposium. Participants later stated that many of the officers attending the meeting were aware of the sexual assaults, but did, in keeping with what seems to be the status quo, nothing to stop them.
Sara Papantonio is a writer and researcher for Ring of Fire.