Today Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, convened a hearing to investigate sexual assault in the military. The hearing includes testimony from individuals who have been victims of rape and sexual assault while serving, and is the first Senate hearing to examine sexual assault in the military in almost a decade.
This hearing comes on the heels of yet another tragic example of the military’s failure to protect victims and hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable. Earlier this month, a Lieutenant General at Aviano Air Base, Craig Franklin, overturned the aggravated sexual assault conviction of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, who had been sentenced to a year in military prison and a dismissal from the Air Force by a jury of his peers.
The overriding theme of both the Senate hearing and a press conference held yesterday by Congresswoman Jackie Speier has been the issue of command interference in sexual assault investigations and prosecutions. Currently, the military justice system allows commanders unilateral discretion over all cases–including the ability to shut an investigation down at any stage in the process without explanation. Congresswoman Speier announced that she will introduce a new bill, the “Military Judicial Reform Act,” that would strip military commanders of the unilateral power to overturn convictions or lessen sentences handed down by judges and juries at courts martial.