According to the Pentagon, approximately 19,000 sexual assaults occur in the military each year and of that 19,000, about 16,600 go unreported because victims fear retaliation, ostracism or a fallout like the one that occurred at the Aviano Air Base in Italy where fighter pilot Lt. Col. James Wilkerson sexually assaulted a female physician's assistant and was tried and found guilty, only to then have the ruling over turned and the case dismissed by authority Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin.
Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel convened in Washington to discuss the issue of sexual assault in the military — particularly the Aviano case — and hear victims' testimonies as well as the defense of the top military brass. The hearing was the first of its kind to occur in 10 years.
The highlight of the subcommittee meeting came from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) who, after hearing the testimonies of various powerful U.S. generals, took the authorities to the mat for their mishandling of sexual assault cases as well as their overall attitudes regarding the very serious matter.
When asked by Gillibrand whether or not justice was done in the Aviano case, one U.S. general answered with a vague "all parties did what they were asked to do by the law." The passionate senator then replied, "Well, one of the parties was wrong. And if you are the victim in that case, to have gone through 8 months of testimony, of providing evidence, I can assure you that she does not believe that justice was done."
When later asked by Andrea Mitchell whether or not it was a coincidence that sexual assault in the military only became a focus after a woman senator became chair of the committee, Gillibrand responded:
"No. I don't think so and that's one of the reasons why I've been such a strong advocate for asking more women to participate in politics, to vote, to be heard, to run because when women are at the table, different issues are discussed, it's a broader agenda and it's an agenda that looks out for all Americans, and oftentimes those who are voiceless. I think this is an instance where, this isn't anything new, there's been sexual assaults in the military for a very long time. In fact more sexual assaults against men and than women. It is such an issue that is crying out for unbelievable reform, oversight and accountability. And it's heartbreaking."