Statement by Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish at Rep Speier Press Conference


Rep Speier Press Conference Bill to Prevent Commanders from Overturning Convictions

March 12, 2013

Protect Our Defenders is a place for survivors to build community, amplify their voices, support one another and take action. We provide peer support and legal assistance. We hear regularly from active duty service members still being denied opportunities to report, generally retaliated against, diagnosed with errant medical diagnoses after reporting and being charged with collateral misconduct after reporting the incident.

We frequently hear from commanders and prosecutors trying to do the right thing but are being thwarted by higher ups.

In this case, we have seen a concerted effort by defense counsel and Wilkerson’s buddies to lie about the facts and falsely accuse the prosecution of misconduct.
The only thing exceptional about this particular injustice, is that it has become public.

Col. Wilkerson’s victim reached out for support and, in order to protect her identity, asked us to communicate on her behalf. Her full statement will be provided to the SASC at the hearing tomorrow. A portion of her statement reads as follows:

QUOTE: “During this entire ordeal, I kept to myself. I endured eight months of public humiliation; investigations; I suffered through an Article 32 hearing, where I was interrogated for several hours by Wilkerson’s legal counsel, without benefit of having my own legal counsel. The defense did everything they could to drag my name and character through the mud. I still went to work and did my job.”

“My superiors and the prosecution team were supportive, professional and worked very hard…. (They) 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.”

“Finally the trial was over….I was relieved … I felt that I could hold my head up, that I did the right thing.”

“The actions taken by General Franklin are shocking and disappointing. 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. I am 49 years old. I’m pretty together, but if it was this hard on me, what’s in store for a young airman? I did the right thing. I was sexually assaulted, and I reported it.”
“(And now) General Franklin has made sure that his decision cannot be changed. What really scares me is that (the perpetrator) will remain in a position of military leadership. Really? Leadership?”

The culture of victim blaming while failing to punish the perpetrator must end.
Before making his decision, Franklin did not speak with the victim or has sense made any effort to see how she is doing.

General Franklin’s decision was contrary to the recommendations of his legal advisor. His refusal to explain his actions sends a strong message: the victim is a liar, the judge was wrong, the prosecutors unethical, and the jury (selected by Franklin) incompetent.

Sadly, General Breedlove commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Franklin’s superior officer, disappointingly, reinforced that message by supporting General Franklin’s decision. According to press accounts he stated: “I’ve been there. I have been in his shoes… I have faith in this commander that he put a lot of work into that decision.”

On the other hand, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Welsh recently said, “Everybody in our Air Force… every commander, every supervisor who isn’t actively engaged in being part of the solution of this is part of the problem.”
Now it’s time for General Welsh and Secretary Hagel to do the right thing. Senior officers must be held accountable for failing to take rape and assault within the military seriously.

We support Congresswoman Speier’s bill to strip military commanders of their power to overturn legal decisions or lessen sentences handed down by judges and juries at courts martial.