Bipartisan bill in Congress will create independent office to investigate military rapes

Press Release: Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) reintroduce The STOP Act to end epidemic of sexual assault in the military; In latest scandal — Lt. Gen. Franklin ignored jury decision and reinstated fellow fighter pilot who was sentenced to year in prison and dismissed from the military for sexual assault, Protect Our Defenders calls on Sec. Hagel to dismiss Franklin

Washington DC – According to the U.S. military there are 19,000 mostly unreported rapes and sexual assaults each year, with hardly any cases ending in convictions or even being prosecuted (Due primarily to fear of retaliation, only 3,200 victims reported attacks in 2010, and out of those fewer than 191 cases resulted in court martial conviction). When victims do report, many are subjected to humiliation, abuse, and are eventually driven out of the military. This epidemic has gone on for decades, and since the 1991 Tailhook scandal, the Pentagon has treated this crisis, as a PR issue, trying to hide the problem, not solve it. Instead of implementing structural changes to end this threat to both our men and women in uniform, but also our country’s national security, the military continues to announce new “training programs” and ineffective half measures.

On Wednesday, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC), and Congressman Bruce Braley (D-IA) reintroduced bipartisan legislation, the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act (The STOP Act) with 70 co-sponsors that would create an independent office for the reporting, investigation and adjudication of military sexual assault outside of the normal chain of command.

This much-needed reform to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) comes in the wake of ongoing scandals at Lackland Air Force Base and Aviano Air Base in Italy. At Aviano, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the aggravated sexual assault conviction of a fellow fighter pilot, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who had been sentenced to a year in prison and dismissed from the armed forces by a jury of senior officers. Acting within his authority, but influenced by his own personal bias and suspicions – Franklin set justice aside and overruled the jury verdict and the advice of his own legal counsel. Franklin freed Wilkerson and reinstated his fellow fighter pilot who served with him in Iraq.

“The STOP Act will help end the epidemic of sexual assault in our military. We applaud Republicans and Democrats for coming together to protect our service men and women,” said Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders. “Fundamental changes are urgently needed. This crisis, this national embarrassment has gone on far too long. Congress established the UCMJ and has the responsibility of civilian oversight. The military process is essentially equivalent to allowing a Mayor, Governor or the President to decide whether or not to charge and prosecute the accused, carefully select a jury, then lessen a sentence or override the outcome if the result is not what they desire.”

According to DoD’s own data, 85 percent of victims do not report the crime, mostly out of fear, that no one will believe them, and the retaliation endured by victims who do report. Considering over 50 percent of victims report their perpetrator was of higher rank and 23 percent that the perpetrator was someone in their chain of command, it is no wonder so many cases are never reported.

Several of our allies, including England and Canada, have instituted fundamental reforms to provide an independent and just legal system for their service members, it’s time our leaders did the same.

When recently asked about his decision to overrule Wilkerson’s conviction, Franklin responded, “I’ll tell you I am sleeping like a baby…I made the right decision…I can sleep well at night because I know I made the right call.”

Now is the time for General Welsh and Defense Secretary Hagel to do the right thing. Senior officers must be held accountable for failing to take rape and assault within the military seriously.

On Tuesday, Protect Our Defenders launched a petition on calling on Sec. Hagel to stand up for victims of sexual assault and remove Franklin and Wilkerson from the Air Force.