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EDITORIAL: Gillibrand leads the way against military sexual assaults

2013-08-03T19:57:00Z 2013-08-06T17:10:40Z EDITORIAL: Gillibrand leads the way against military sexual assaults Glens Falls Post-Star
August 03, 2013 7:57 pm

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, a three-star general in the Air Force, recently overturned the sexual assault conviction of an F-16 pilot he had previously commanded.

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was found guilty by an all-male jury of fellow officers of aggravated sexual assault of a 49-year-old physician’s assistant and civilian contractor who was spending the night at his home after a party. The woman had accepted an invitation to stay in the guest room, but woke up to find Wilkerson in her bed.

Wilkerson was sentenced to a year of confinement and was to be expelled from the military.

But under Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a commanding officer reviewing a legal case has “absolute power” to disapprove the findings of a military judicial proceeding.

Lt. Gen. Franklin thought the verdict was wrong, so he overturned it.

He said he based his decision on documentation that “painted a consistent picture of a person who adored his wife and 9-year-old son, as well as a picture of a long-serving professional Air Force officer.”

The case smells, but illustrates some of the shortcomings of military justice.

It has also become a rallying point for the cause of reform in the military to stop sexual assaults and make it safe for victims to come forward.

“I was assaulted. I reported it. I endured the public humiliation and the end result is that it was all for nothing,” Wilkerson’s victim said in a statement after the decision.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., hopes to change that. She continues to work toward enacting significant reforms that remove military commanders from the decision-making process when it comes to prosecuting sexual assaults.

Recent statistics reveal the military has a horrific problem on its hands. The Defense Department estimates there may be as many as 26,000 sexual assaults committed each year, and the vast majority are not reported.

CBS News reported of the 3,192 cases of sexual assault reported in 2011 that only 1,516 were “considered actionable” and only about 8 percent of those cases went to trial.

The reason is obvious. Often the person being accused of the crime is in the chain of command, or a friend of a person in the chain of command. One Air Force sergeant told the New York Times she never reported any of the assaults she suffered in her 17 years in uniform because it would be a “career-ender.”

Outrage over the crimes has put pressure on Congress to do something to change the culture.

Sen. Carl Levin, a six-term Democrat from Michigan who is chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, proposed significant policy changes that are backed by the Pentagon’s top officials. But Gillibrand does not feel they go far enough.

Gillibrand is chairwoman of the Armed Services personnel subcommittee and is working on provisions that would strip commanders of their authority to prosecute cases of sexual assault. Instead, seasoned military lawyers would be responsible.

The approach is the only one that would guarantee safety to our military rank and file members. It is long overdue and an approach every member of Congress should support.

The most disturbing thing about Lt. Col. Wilkerson’s case is that it is not unique. There have been many other incidents reported, including episodes at the U.S. Naval Academy and West Point, where midshipmen and cadets are supposed to adhere to a code of honor.

Sen. Levin’s proposal only increases pressure on senior commanders to prosecute sexual assault cases by making them accountable if they fail to do so.

Sen. Gillibrand’s approach offers real change that would be far-reaching and effective in eliminating sexual assaults.

We hear a lot of talk about supporting our military personnel and their mission to protect our country. Sen. Gillibrand’s proposal takes an enormous step toward protecting them.

By the way, Lt. Col. Wilkerson is back on active duty.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle and citizen representative Ted Mirczak.

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(10) Comments

    Report Abuse
    IWILLNOTCOMPLY - August 07, 2013 7:12 am
    OK 4cents what she is doing is good but I have one major problem with her. Show me where she publicly stood up and condemned Sheldon Silver for what he did and also show where she stood up and demanded the mayor of San Diego Bob Filner resign.
    You can't claim to be for women's rights and ignore all this crap and the only reason she has not said anything is because they are democrats.
    She should be standing up for woman's rights even if it goes against her party. Can't be against this one but not against the other one!
    575- Remember when she was in congress and told us she would protect our 2nd amendment rights? When she went to the senate and old upchuck told her she was for gun control she did a 180 on gun rights.
    So I have a big problem with someones character when they change their mind over night and go against their word.
  2. 4cents
    Report Abuse
    4cents - August 06, 2013 4:07 pm
    Wow, I can't believe that most of the posters here are in favor of rape; okay, maybe that's unfair, they're not FOR rape, they are just opposed to someone who is opposed to rape. See the difference? The most un-American thing I read lately is the suggestion that a democratically elected civilian representative (Senator actually) shouldn't provide oversight to the military because they've never served is reprehensible. Move to a country lead by a military junta if you want that type of government.
  3. ralph1986
    Report Abuse
    ralph1986 - August 05, 2013 2:36 pm
    Stopping sexual harrassment and abuse of members of the millitary is important, the politics of any person raising the issue is irrelevant
  4. 5756917
    Report Abuse
    5756917 - August 05, 2013 9:11 am
    I agree, Gillibrand has done nothing but tag along with Schumer. When she first was elected she actually had a little spunk and worked hard for a few years. She became a joke when she hooked up with Schumer.
  5. temptedsniper
    Report Abuse
    temptedsniper - August 05, 2013 12:21 am
    with everything that is so terribly wrong in this country at this time that gillibrand chooses to spend her time worrying about a problem that affects such a small part of the population. the general's decision conforms to policies in place in the ucmj. although these policies were not designed to free sexual predators the reason they are in place far surpasses sexual misconduct, and will probably never be amended in any way. this being said I hope she realizes this and spends her time on issues she has a chance of changing for the better.
  6. St-Egreve
    Report Abuse
    St-Egreve - August 04, 2013 8:44 pm

    First of all, thank you for your service.

    Secondly, regarding Gillibrands record: Other than this and being Schumer's little lapdog, what has she done ?
  7. patcher
    Report Abuse
    patcher - August 04, 2013 9:45 am
    It's slipped my mind - what service did she serve our country in to become an overnight expert so fast? Seems to me that when politicians and lawyers get involved in areas they know nothing about - they seem to screw things up.
  8. rgiggs
    Report Abuse
    rgiggs - August 04, 2013 9:18 am
    This is another fine PostStar editorial about a very serious problem. I'm a former Air Force officer, and I'm hoping that Sen. Gillibrand's proposal will be implemented. As a side comment, I'd also like to say that we Upstaters are very fortunate that Sen. Gillibrand came on the scene and, in short order, moved on to the federal level. Overall, her body of political work merits an A+.
  9. loneoak
    Report Abuse
    loneoak - August 04, 2013 7:40 am
    Politicians can not even police their own ranks when it comes to this and they want to tell someone else how it should be done. I do not agree with what the general as a jury decision should not be overturned without overwhelming evidence to do so.
  10. championofwomen
    Report Abuse
    championofwomen - August 04, 2013 12:04 am
    The problem with what she wants to do is it still doesn't stop the commands from harassing the victims and aiding the rapist! She should be launching investigations to show how bad the problem is and prosecuting commands! The other problem is current victims in the military that are being harassed Gillibrand is ignoring! So she is more about lip service than anything and as bad as the commands ignoring rape she is doing the same thing!



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