First she was traumatized by being sexually assaulted by someone she trusted. Then she was re-traumatized when the perpetrator’s conviction was overturned. Finally she was traumatized yet again when the Air Force reassigned her attacker to a base near her family members. Just how much outrage must be sparked before something is finally done to prevent the military from policing its own?
The case involving victim Kimberly Hanks grabbed national headlines when Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin overturned the conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a pilot and inspector general of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base in Italy who had been found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced by a jury (CBS). The assault happened after a party at Wilkerson’s house on the base. Hanks says she accepted an offer from the Wilkersons to stay in the guest bedroom after a party. She awoke to find Wilkerson in her room. He was later found guilty in a military court of aggravated sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer (Business Insider). When the conviction was overturned, Hanks was stunned. In referring to Franklin’s decision, Hanks stated, “It looks to me like he is protecting one of his own” (todaynews). Hanks believes that other victims will now hesitate to file reports because they have been sent the message that “it’s not worth it. Don’t bother” (todaynews). To make matters worse, earlier this month the Air Force quietly reassigned Wilkerson to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, where many of the victim’s family members reside.
At a congressional hearing last week, Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., told senior officers that commanding officers should not be permitted to reverse a jury verdict. According to McCaskill, victims are left thinking that “no matter what happens at the trial, no matter if they believe me, some general is going to decide I’m a slut” (Huffington Post).
Lawmakers have now been given the task of rewriting legislation to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which was first established in 1950 and later revised in 1968 and 1983. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y believes that military commanders should not be involved in the process at all: “Our goal would be to remove all decision-making out of the chain of command about whether to prosecute a case and whether to bring a case to the chain of command” (Huffington Post). In a Congress that rarely comes to consensus on any issues, it remains to be seen whether revised legislation will be passed and members of the US military will be held accountable for their actions. If the current system remains in place and the military continues to police itself, victims will be blamed and re-traumatized, while perpetrators will walk away without punishment.