Senator Jeanne Shaheen renewed her commitment to addressing sexual assault in the military at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this morning which was called to further examine the epidemic. The hearing featured extensive testimony from sexual assault victims and at the hearing, Shaheen questioned the witnesses on their personal experiences in the military. Shaheen also asked the witnesses to offer their input on ways to implement reforms that will make sure survivors can report crimes and prosecute offenders.
Shaheen, who chairs the Armed Services' Subcommittee on Readiness, has been a leader on addressing sexual assault in the military and has worked extensively to ensure that victims receive the support they deserve.
"We have a responsibility to do everything we can to combat sexual assault in the military. Victims must know that they'll be supported if they come forward, regardless of the circumstances, and the testimony we heard today reinforced the need for us to take steps to address this epidemic.
"Unless we act, we'll continue to send the wrong message to survivors suggesting that their cases won't be properly addressed. That is entirely unacceptable as it would only further perpetuate the epidemic of sexual assault," said Senator Shaheen.
This morning's hearing took place just days after Shaheen joined California Senator Barbara Boxer to call on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to release detailed information on the Air Force's decision to overturn an aggravated sexual assault conviction of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson. In response, Secretary Hagel announced he was conducting an internal investigation of the case in question.
"The Wilkerson case raises serious questions and sets a potentially dangerous precedent about the way we address these crimes," added Shaheen. "I know Secretary Hagel shares my concerns and is committed to addressing this issue head on. I was very encouraged to hear him reiterate that commitment when he called for a review of the Wilkerson case. I am looking forward to working with him, and other military officials, to address this issue moving forward because we have a responsibility do everything in our power to bring criminals to justice."
In the case in question, Lt. Col Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in jail and dismissed from the Air Force after he was convicted of aggravated sexual assault by a jury of his peers. However, in a post-trial review of the case, Third Air Force Commander Lieutenant General Craig Franklin overturned the jury verdict and cleared Wilkerson of all charges, allowing him to be reinstated in the Air Force.
Last year, Shaheen introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to repeal a discriminatory policy preventing female service members who were victims of rape or incest from receiving the same health care coverage as the civilians they protect. The amendment, which brings the Department of Defense's reproductive health care polices in line with federal standards, passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law last December.