Ending The Epidemic of Sexual Violence In The Military

The issue of sexual violence in the military is not new, and unfortunately, it’s been allowed to go on in the shadows for far too long. Our best and brightest join our armed forces for all the right reasons and the vast majority of our brave men and women serving in uniform do so honorably. But there is also no doubt that we have men and women in uniform who are committing unconscionable acts of sexual assault. The scourge of sexual violence in the military should be intolerable to all Americans and it’s time to bring it to an end once and for all.

According to the Defense Department’s own estimates, an astounding 19,000 sexual assaults occured in 2011. Of those, only 3,192 were reported, and of those, only 240 proceeded to trial. A system where fewer than 1 out of 10 reported perpetrators are held accountable for their alleged crimes is a system that is broken. We simply must do better. 

That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself as Chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel to crack down on perpetrators of sexual assault in the military and reform the way the military handles assault convictions. Last year, at the Aviano Air Force Base in Italy, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was convicted by a five-person jury of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to a year in jail, forfeiture of all pay and dismissal from the Air Force. Yet his commander, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, proceeded to dismiss the case entirely, and re-instated Wilkerson to the Air Force.

It was in the wake of this injustice that I held the first Senate hearing in almost ten years on the issue of sexual assault in the military last month, where we heard from a panel of sexual assault survivors as well as military officials. I felt it was incredibly important to hear the voices of some of the men and women who've experienced sexual assault, but also hear the perspective of the military itself. What I heard from the military officials was not enough, and made it more clear to me than ever that we absolutely must reform the way the military handles these cases.

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