This week, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA-9) appointed UC Hastings law professor Elizabeth Hillman to serve on the military’s Sexual Assault Review Panel.
Professor Hillman is the president of the National Institute for Military Justice, which is “a nonprofit dedicated to promoting fairness in and public understanding of military justice worldwide.” She’s a military sexual assault researcher and published author on the military justice system.
But here’s the best news about Hillman’s appointment: she supports taking the prosecution of violent crimes—including sexual assault—out of the chain of command.
Did you see this? Just today, The New York Times wrote an editorial detailing the path forward on ending military sexual assault and highlighting some promising proposals from one of our champions, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Next Steps on Military Sexual Assaults
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD Published: April 28, 2013
In the last big health survey of active-duty American military personnel, conducted in 2011 and released last week, one in five female service members said they had been subjected to unwanted sexual contact since joining the military. That shocking statistic squares with other alarming indicators of the military’s pervasive culture of sexual misconduct. It also underscores the urgent need to change that culture.
Despite promises of zero tolerance, the Pentagon has nothing less than a sexual assault crisis on its hands. The Defense Department estimated last year that as many as 19,000 service members are sexually assaulted annually. Only a small fraction of the incidents, 3,192 in 2011, are reported, and a mere 10 percent of those cases proceed to trial — hardly enough to create meaningful deterrence to criminal behavior and establish accountability. And sexual assaults at the three elite military academies are at record numbers, according to Pentagon data. Studies have shown sexual trauma to be the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among servicewomen.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, is offering two promising bills aimed generally at improving conditions for women in the military and reforming the way the military handles sexual assault cases. The first measure, introduced last week, would allow women to use their own money to pay for abortions in military medical facilities. Under current law, military doctors may perform abortions only in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is endangered, an appalling restriction on a woman’s right to make her own childbearing decisions. The rule also has the effect of denying abortion care to military rape victims who are unwilling to risk their careers and privacy by coming forward.
The second bill, to be introduced next month, seeks to give women confidence that they can eventually receive justice by repairing a key structural flaw in the military’s handling of assault cases. As things stand, senior officers with no legal training but ample conflicts of interest can decide whether court-martial charges can be brought against subordinates and whether to throw out a verdict once it is rendered. In one recent case, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, an Air Force commander, dismissed without explanation the aggravated sexual assault conviction of an Air Force fighter pilot, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, permitting Colonel Wilkerson’s reinstatement.
Ms. Gillibrand would leave decisions in serious military cases, including sexual assaults, to an independent prosecutor and end the power of senior commanders to quash a verdict. A similar measure that would create a system for handling sexual trauma cases outside the chain of command has been introduced in the House by Jackie Speier, a California Democrat. To his credit, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel supports eliminating the discretion of senior officers to overturn jury findings in serious cases, still leaving defendants robust rights of appeal. But he has stopped short of endorsing the changes necessary to give impartial military prosecutors the power to investigate and prosecute offenses.
Opponents of reform seem in denial about the severity of the problem while raising overblown fears that handling felony-level cases outside the chain of command would ruin military discipline. What that argument misses is that military discipline is already badly broken when the many victims of sexual assaults have almost zero faith that justice will be served and their careers protected if they report them.
According to Politico this morning, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will review Article 60 of the Uniform Code of Justice today—meaning Sec. Hagel will assess a commander's ability to dismiss charges in all cases, including instances of military sexual assault.
Article 60 of the UCMJ grants the “convening authority” the sole power to dismiss any charge brought by a court martial. This means that even if a service member is found guilty of rape, the convening authority—who is in the rapist’s chain of command and could therefore face a conflict of interest—can completely invalidate any punishment and return the convicted to service.
Secretary Hagel ordered a full review of Article 60 after an Air Force general at Aviano Air Base dismissed charges against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who had been convicted of sexual assault. The case sparked outrage publically and politically, culminating in a Senate Armed Services hearing on the subject.
In the hearing, Senator Claire McCaskill demanded justice for survivors of military rape:
Sec. Hagel’s review is a huge step forward in ensuring justice for survivors of military sexual assault, and we look forward to the results of his analysis. Stay tuned for updates in the coming weeks.
During yesterday's Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee hearing on military sexual assault, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand refused to accept rhetoric over reality, taking military leaders to task for claiming that commanders need convening authority--the definitive power to determine when to hear cases of sexual assault and when to overturn convictions--to maintain good discipline and order.
Check out the video of Sen. Gillibrand's questioning:
Join us in thanking Sen. Gillibrand for her leadership on this issue on Twitter:
Last week Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced that her first hearing as chair of the Senate Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee would focus on oversight of military sexual assault cases.
The hearing will take place THIS WEDNESDAY, March 13, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and we’re headed to the Hill to see it happen! But whether you’re online--watching along on the livestream HERE--or on the ground in Washington, D.C., we hope that you’ll join us.
Help us thank Sen. Gilibrand for her leadership on this issue – send her a Tweet:
Newly minted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel nominated Maj. Gen Michelle Johnson to be the new superintendent of the Air Force Academy on Friday, setting her up to be the first woman to ever hold the position.
Politico has the full story on the nomination, from the Associated Press.
According to the Denver Post, Maj. Gen Johnson was the first female cadet wing commander to graduate from the Air Force Academy in 1981 and has since ascended the ranks to three-star general. If appointed, she would be the second woman to helm a service academy, following in the footsteps after Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz, who was named superintendent of the United States Coast Guard Academy in 2011.
As the head of the Air Force Academy, Maj. Gen. Johnson will be in charge of setting the tone for a new generation of Air Force leaders—meaning she can help make sure that “Zero Tolerance” of sexual assault is more than just rhetoric.
We congratulate Maj. Gen. Johnson on her appointment and hope that under her leadership, the Air Force Academy will lead the way in preventing sexual assault among attendees.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants Congress to tackle the 19,000 sex assaults per year in the armed forces. She'll take up the subject in her new role as chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.
Next month’s hearing is believed to be the first the U.S. Senate has convened on the problem since 1997. Gillibrand will summon sexual assault victims and military officials to the hearing to discuss what can be done to stop it.
It's been called the Invisible War — the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said Friday she wants Congress to tackle this “reprehensible problem” — and so she will summon sexual assault victims and military brass to a hearing to explore what to do about it.
It will be her first hearing in her new role as chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.
“We have 19,000 sexual assaults a year happening — and only a small handful of perpetrators being prosecuted and discharged,” she told the Daily News.
When Kirby and I first set out on this journey, we were shocked and outraged by the epidemic of rape within our military. The numbers were startling. But so are numbers like 35 million: average viewership of the Oscars who last night heard Ben Affleck address this very problem on stage and telecast around the world.
From the Academy to the Spirit Awards, it was a jam-packed weekend! On Saturday we were incredibly proud to take home a Spirit Independent Award for Best Documentary Feature -- another recognition of the powerful story THE INVISIBLE WAR tells through our survivors' eyes.
These past few weeks -- from Hollywood to Washington -- have been filled with milestones, all of which we reached with your support. At the beginning, we couldn't believe how little people spoke or knew about the tragedy of Military Sexual Assault -- not to mention how psychologically damaging it was, and the extent of the institutional cover-up.