Protect Our Defenders Testifies Before Senate Armed Services Hearing on Sexual Assaults in the Military

   

Watch hearings video here

  1. Read the Statement from Aviano victim (below)
  2. Read Testimony from Protect Our Defenders Board Member Brian Lewis before the Senate Armed Services Committee
  3. Read Testimony from Protect Our Defenders Board Member BriGette McCoy before the Senate Armed Services Committee
  4. Read Testimony by Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee
  5. Read Testimony by Ben Klay of Invisible War submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee
  6. Read Press Conference Statement from Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish
  7. Read the Letter to General Franklin from Air Force veteran Patrick Green
  8. Read the Protect Our Defenders media advisory


Statement from Aviano Air Base Sexual Assault Victim for United States Senate Committee on Armed Services Hearing on Sexual Assaults in the Military

Media Contact: Brian Purchia, 202-253-4330, brian@protectourdefenders.com

Last month, Lieutenant General Craig Franklin set aside the sexual assault conviction of Lt. Col James Wilkerson who had been sentenced to a year in prison and dismissed from the armed forces by a jury of his peers. Franklin provided no explanation of his actions.

The military estimates that there are 19,000 military rapes and sexual assaults a year, but only 3,200 victims reported the attacks and out of those fewer than 191 cases resulted in court martial conviction (“conviction” means any charge in a sexual assault case including for example adultery with 7 days in the brig). According to DoD’s own data, 47% of service members are too afraid to report their assaults, because of what happens to those who do.

The victim reached out to the advocacy organization, Protect Our Defenders looking for support after the verdict in her case was set aside.

Background:

Recently, a sexual assault case against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, USAF, went to trial at Aviano Air Base, Italy. In it, a jury found Lt. Col. Wilkerson guilty of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced him to one-year of confinement, total forfeitures of pay, and a dismissal from the Air Force. After trial, the jury’s recommendation went to Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the GCMCA, for action. Lt. Gen. Franklin (against the recommendation of his legal advisor) granted total clemency and disapproved the criminal conviction and the sentence. Lt. Col. Wilkerson remains in the Air Force today. Currently, the victim in this case has requested to preserve her privacy, but desires to make her story known. She has drafted the following statement:

Victim’s Statement:

I am an independent contractor working at Aviano Air Base (on an annually renewable 3-year contract) since September 2011. Currently, the office in which I work is rated number one in the Air Force in regard to completion of mandated assessments – a significant improvement from 62% to 98% completion rate. In addition, I was a volunteer for base projects such as Relay for Life, Ecological Day and the Fall Bazaar.

Prior to Aviano, I worked in the civilian sector in my chosen field. I am a college graduate with a degree in history. I also obtained a teaching credential and taught elementary school for 6 years. I have 13 years experience in my current field.

I have a small circle of friends here at Aviano. I had been working at Aviano for six months, when, in March 2012, Colonel Wilkerson sexually assaulted me.

It has been an incredibly hard journey back to being myself. I am still working on that. I don’t know whether it is because of the assault or the legal process or both.

During this entire ordeal, I kept to myself. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I was already a little introverted. This process has made me even more so. I stay home most weekends. I don’t want to run into Wilkerson’s friends. I work with wives of pilots who are close to Wilkerson and dread coming into work.

I initially filed a restricted complaint because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Days later I was told I would either need to drop it or file an unrestricted report. It was explained to me that the usual process was the case is initially sent to the Vice Wing Commander, who was coincidentally a best friend of the accused and also at the party that night. I was shocked but I had to make a decision. I decided to do the right thing and report.

I endured eight months of public humiliation and investigations, interviews by OSI, the prosecution and the defense. And an Article 32 hearing where I was interrogated for several hours by Wilkerson’s legal counsel without benefit of legal counsel myself. The defense did everything they could to drag my name and character through the mud, and I still went to work and did my job.

My superiors and the prosecution team were supportive, professional and worked very hard. This team stood by me and believed in me and pursued the case in the face of unrelenting personal and professional attacks. I can see why many in their position would not want to risk their careers by standing up for a victim. But these prosecutors put it all on the line.

What’s been especially hard for me is allowing Wilkerson and his friends to see me vulnerable, because they make fun of it, and they haven’t earned the privilege of knowing me for who I am. It was incredibly hard to say to a packed courtroom, filled with all of his friends and their wives how I had changed, how I wasn’t myself and how numb I felt ever since the assault. I remember crying, and hearing one of the guys in a flight suit snort when I was testifying about how I will never be the same

Finally the trial was over. After the conviction, I was relieved that I could put it behind me and get my life back, hold my head up that I did the right thing, try to remain under the radar for the remainder of my time here.

Then the letters of clemency came in. The clemency process was a travesty. The vast majority of statements were personal attacks on the judge, the prosecutors and me. A few were actual clemency letters; stating their relationship with Wilkerson, please think of his family, etc. Many of them, especially the ones from the pilot community and their wives, wrote caustic, vitriolic letters alleging that the judicial system is corrupt and that the trial was not legitimate. They claimed the prosecutors were bullies and unethical; the panel was biased because they weren’t pilots; the judge made bad decisions; I am a slut, a liar, unprofessional. The ability for officers of the United States Air Force to lie with such abandon and such disregard for the truth has been one of the most shocking things about this entire experience.

The actions taken by General Franklin are appalling and disappointing. It was such a poor decision. It was the wrong decision. It’s the old boy network thing to do. Why bother to put the investigators, prosecutors, judge, jury and me through this if one person can set justice aside with the swipe of a pen.

All this work – to have it thrown away – why don’t we just write a letter and send it to the Commander who makes a unilateral decision? I am aware that General Franklin and Lt Col Wilkerson flew together previously. They are a part of a tiny community of pilots who are very loyal to one another, and they have numerous mutual friends and acquaintances. I can understand it was a difficult decision for General Franklin when he was being lobbied so hard by so many fellow generals and colonels who are also a part of that same community. But it was the wrong decision. I know what happened.

I am almost 50 years old. I’m pretty together but if I went through all this, what’s in store for a young airman? I did the right thing. I was sexually assaulted, and I reported it. How could a young woman who just joined the Air Force go through all this and survive? Gen Franklin’s decision sent a message to every single victim of sexual assault out there that it’s probably not worth it to go through what I had to go through.

I was sexually assaulted. The memory will remain forever, but it will not define who I am.
I want the focus to be on the ethical issue of a single biased person wielding the power to derail a decision that was made in a methodical, objective manner with the swipe of a pen. I would like to use the result of my experience to change the process of law to separate sexual assault cases from the military justice system. This is the real focus now. Not my assault, because General Franklin has made sure that can’t be changed. He has made sure that Col Wilkerson is free to do this again. What really scares me also is that Wilkerson could make Colonel now, and will be issued a position of leadership. Really? Leadership?

Sincerely,
[name redacted]

P.S. I have asked Protect Our Defenders to communicate on my behalf in order to protect my identity. A number of family, friends and my adult child are unaware of what happened to me.