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Military sexual assault victims detail humiliation

By Donna Cassata and Richard Lardner

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:06 a.m. HST, Mar 13, 2013


WASHINGTON » Victims of sexual assault and violence in the military told Congress today they're afflicted with a slow and uncaring system of justice that too often fails to hold perpetrators accountable and is fraught with institutional bias.

They testified to a Senate panel examining the military's handling of sexual assault cases that the military justice system is broken and urged Congress to make changes in the law that would stem the rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment that they said are pervasive in the service branches.

Defense Department officials said they have taken aggressive steps to combat sexual assault in the ranks. In written testimony to be delivered later today, Robert Taylor, the Pentagon's acting general counsel, called sexual assault an "abhorrent crime" that does enormous harm to the victim and undermines the good order and discipline that is essential in military units.

Rebekah Havrilla, a former Army sergeant, told the panel that she encountered a "broken" military criminal justice system after she was raped by another service member while serving in Afghanistan. Havrilla described suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and described how her case was eventually closed after senior commanders decided not to pursue charges.

"What we need is a military with a fair and impartial criminal justice system, one that is run by professional and legal experts, not unit commanders," Havrilla said.

BriGette McCoy, a former Army specialist and a Persian Gulf war veteran, said she was raped when she was 18 and at her first duty station. But she did not report it. Three years later, she reported being sexually harassed and asked for an apology and to be removed from working directly with the offender.

"They did remove me from his team and his formal apology consisted of him driving by me on base and saying 'sorry' out of his open car door window," McCoy told the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee.

The subcommittee's hearing comes as members of Congress are expressing outrage over an Air Force general's decision to reverse a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case that is spurring support for legislation that would prevent commanding officers from overturning rulings made by judges and juries at courts-martial proceedings.

Anu Bhagwati of the Service Women's Action Network told the panel that commanders are unable to make impartial decisions because they usually have a professional relationship with the accused and, often times, with the victim as well. Bhagwati, a former Marine Corps captain, said court-martial cases should be left in the hands of "trained, professional, disinterested prosecutors."

Under military law, a commander who convenes a court-martial is known as the convening authority and has the sole discretion to reduce or set aside guilty verdicts and sentences or to reverse a jury's verdict.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a review of Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin's decision to overturn the sexual assault conviction against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the chairwoman of the military personnel subcommittee, called the Wilkerson case "shocking" and promised to take a hard look at the military justice system. Nearly 2,500 sexual violence cases in the military services were reported in 2011, but only 240 made it to trial, Gillibrand said.

Wilkerson, a former inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy, was found guilty on Nov. 2 by a jury of military officers on charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. The victim was a civilian employee. Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service.

Wilkerson was at the U.S. Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, S.C., until Feb. 26, when Franklin exercised his discretion as the convening authority. Franklin reviewed the case over a three-week period and concluded "that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Hagel wrote in a March 7 letter to Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

But Hagel told Boxer neither he nor the Air Force secretary is empowered to overrule Franklin, who is the commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Boxer said during testimony before the subcommittee that "immediate steps must be taken to prevent senior commanders from having the ability to unilaterally overturn a decision or sentence by a military court."

Taylor, the acting general counsel, said in his written testimony the Defense Department is examining the role the convening authority plays, including a commander's power to set aside a court-martial's findings. But Taylor also stressed that commanders have long held this authority and it is directly tied to the need for the "portability" of military justice throughout the world and the need for senior officers to maintain discipline in the ranks.

In the wake of Franklin's decision, Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., introduced legislation Tuesday in the House of Representatives that would strip military commanders of the power to overturn legal decisions or lessen sentences. Their bill would amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to take away the power of a convening authority to dismiss, commute, lessen, or order a rehearing after a panel or judge has found the accused guilty and rendered a punishment.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., a member of the personnel subcommittee, plans to introduce legislation soon that would change the Uniform Code of Military Justice by preventing a convening authority from overturning a decision reached by a jury. The legislation also would require the convening authority to issue a written justification for any action.

"This is not a crime that we're going to train our way out of," said McCaskill, who emphasized the need for the strong and effective prosecution of offenders.

Brian Lewis, a former Navy petty officer, told the subcommittee not to forget that many victims of sexual assault and harassment in the military are male. Lewis said he was raped in 2000 by a non-commissioned officer who outranked him. His commanders ordered him not to report the crime to Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Lewis said he was later misdiagnosed with having a personality disorder and he was discharged from the service in 2001.

"I carry my discharge as an official and permanent symbol of shame, on top of the trauma of the physical attack, the retaliation and its aftermath," Lewis said.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, asked whether the culture would change if the laws were overhauled. Lewis described the limitations of military law, arguing that it was unconscionable that punishment is solely at the discretion of a single individual and the offense of sexual assault is merely a year in prison.

"The military does not value what happened to the victim," Lewis said.







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nitpikker wrote:
in the case of the military, it seems you have the inmates running the prison.
on March 13,2013 | 06:15AM
allie wrote:
That is why I will never serve in the military. When I was in High School in North Dakota, recruiters begged us to sign up to fight for oil and Israel in the Mid East. We were offered cash bonuses and promises of a large life insurance policy if we died. And they cannot protect women from vicious sexual predators? Get lost buddy.
on March 13,2013 | 06:28AM
hawaiikone wrote:
Somehow I don't think they were talking to you...
on March 13,2013 | 07:15AM
bekwell wrote:
LOL
on March 13,2013 | 08:14AM
allie wrote:
ummm...they were
on March 13,2013 | 01:16PM
FWS wrote:
Seriously? Are you labeling everyone in uniform a “vicious sexual predator”? I can assure you that the few high profile cases reported in the media do not reflect the character of everyone in uniform. I fear that liberal educators--who have never served a day in uniform in their lives--are poisoning the minds of the youth into thinking the US military is a bad organization. If the military is involved in missions we don’t agree with, we only have ourselves to blame for electing the people who sent them there. The US military is crucial in supporting our way of life! You should give that recruiter a call. Get the real story.
on March 13,2013 | 07:37AM
Morimoto wrote:
Can't believe I'm saying this but "good job allie. you did the right thing".
on March 13,2013 | 08:18AM
allie wrote:
Thanks. My mom said that unless the military could create a harassment-free environment I should not sign up. There should a strong no tolerance policy
on March 13,2013 | 01:13PM
Morimoto wrote:
If I'm ever forced to join the US military and fight for an unworthy cause like Iraq or Afghanistan, I'd probably pull a Nadal Hasan. Speaking of Hasan, he isn't a criminal, he's a soldier fighting a war, and he did a good job at it.
on March 13,2013 | 08:20AM
FWS wrote:
Lucky for YOU, you live in America, where 'volunteers' defend this nation against enemies foreign and domestic. You will not be forced to defend this nation. If Iraq and Afghanistan were 'unworthy' causes--though family members of the 9/11 victims might think otherwise--then those likeminded with you didn't take the time to vote for politicians who thought they were unworthy causes. The military only fights and dies in the wars, it doesn't get to pick them. US Army Major Nidal Hasan--yes, he took an oath and accepted a commission as a US Army Officer--was a coward, plain and simple. If he truly believed in his cause, then he should have left the protections he was afforded in the US and gone to Yemen to fight alongside Anwar al-Aulaqi. Instead, he hid behind the uniform of a US Army Officer and shot unarmed people. But YOU are certainly FREE to support whomever you wish Morimoto. That's how we roll here in America, land of the free, home of the brave!
on March 13,2013 | 09:01AM
Morimoto wrote:
I owe this country nothing as this country owes me nothing. No one fights for me, I fight my own battles. Ever notice the US always has "enemies" no matter what? Ever thought it has anything to do with their corporate greed and the need to push their values and culture on the rest of the world? Starving Iraqis, Saudis under oppressive rule supported by the US, and Palestinians subject to Israel's continued suppression also might think 9/11 was justified. I also voted in every election but one since I turned 18. Hasan waged undeclared war, just like the US is doing in Afghanistan (eg. enemy combatants). Hasan knew he was going to get shot eventually and he also went after soldiers who he knew were going to kill "his people". Keep in mind he took on the most powerful military in the world single-handedly, certainly not a display of cowardice. The true cowards are those that bomb people from 10,000 feet away without any risk to themselves.
on March 13,2013 | 09:49AM
FWS wrote:
Tried to respond earlier, but the SA editors didn’t like my choice of words. Anyway…"the US has enemies because we need to push our culture and values on the rest of the world?" Sounds more like a jihad to me. The reality is most people in the world would give anything to be able to live free in the USA. Even Hasan’s parents left the West Bank for the US. “Hasan’s people” are from Virginia. The US isn’t perfect, but you are free, you can vote, and you can believe what you want. You can fight your own battles, but you do need other Americans to protect what’s yours…police, fire department, DHS, and yes, even the US Military. Disagree? Try spending a day in Mogadishu, Somalia, to see what a real failed state looks like. Not sure how someone wages an ‘undeclared war’ while, pledging allegiance to the enemy, wearing the enemy’s uniform, and taking a paycheck from the enemy—in other words breaking his oath and violating international laws of armed conflict. A brave man faces his enemies on the battlefield. The US Military is ready to do that for you. You're welcome. For enemies who hide behind innocent civilians, other methods have to be used. For every combatant killed in a drone strike, hundreds of innocents are saved by not being placed in a crossfire. We can all hope that one day, all this will be over. Except for promoting freedom, the US gets nothing out of this. We take no territory. As Colin Powell said, all we ask for is a small piece of land to bury our dead. May Peace be with you Morimoto!!!
on March 13,2013 | 01:07PM
Morimoto wrote:
Yes people want to immigrate to the US, the US is also engaged in more wars than all other countries, has the highest military budget by far and loves to stick it's nose in everyone's business whether it's wanted or not. What does all this mean? Well different people interpret it differently. Ever wonder why people want to leave the West Bank? Probably goes back to the creation of Israel and oppression of Palestinians, supported by the US. I actaully feel the US military's actions abroad are making the world a more dangerous place by creating more enemies than friends. I guess drone strikes are perfectly legal under international law aren't they? And Guantanamo isn't used for torture right? A brave man faces an enemy equally competent as himself, not fighting third world villagers with every advantage on the battlefield. So I guess if S. Arabia didn't have oil the US woud still be supporting the regime that still executes juveniles and crucifies people right? It just comes down to you believing the US is solving problems, I believe they are the problem more than anything else.
on March 13,2013 | 01:39PM
FWS wrote:
Hard to focus on all these time periods in the small space allotted by SA. Anyway, as you may recall, it wasn’t very long ago that the US was involved in a world struggle with the USSR and Red China. We called it the Cold War—perhaps you’ve heard of it? The US stepped on plenty of toes in an effort to secure our survival. Did the US support some despots? You bet. But so did the USSR and China. We’re still dealing with some of those folks today in North Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere. The Cold War may be ‘over’ but it ain’t really over. Don’t see how US actions for self preservation make the world any more dangerous than it already is. Note: it’s not “US military actions” because the US military only carries out the directions of the US political leaders. Moving along…not sure if the Taliban or Al-Qaida fighters would consider themselves third world villagers. They have plenty of supporters (perhaps you’re one of them) who provide them with funding and weapons. I find it odd that you would denigrate Saudi Arabia for following Sharia Law. Didn’t see that coming. Would you have the US invade and convert them all to Catholicism? How many friends would that make us? If you have some solutions to go with all your complaints, you should look for work with the US State Department. We have opportunities like that here in the US. I wish you well.
on March 13,2013 | 03:34PM
FWS wrote:
Hard to focus on all these time periods in the small space allotted by SA. Anyway, as you may recall, it wasn’t very long ago that the US was involved in a world struggle with the USSR and Red China. We called it the Cold War—perhaps you’ve heard of it? The US stepped on plenty of toes in an effort to secure our survival. Did the US support some despots? You bet. But so did the USSR and China. We’re still dealing with some of those folks today in North Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere. The Cold War may be ‘over’ but it ain’t really over. Don’t see how US actions for self preservation make the world more dangerous than it already is. Note: it’s not “US military actions” because the US military only carries out the directions of the US political leaders. Moving along…not sure if the Taliban or Al-Qaida fighters would consider themselves third world villagers. They have plenty of supporters (perhaps you’re one of them) who provide them with funding and weapons. Odd that you denigrate Saudi Arabia for following Sharia law. Didn’t see that coming. Would you have the US invade and convert them all to Catholicism? How many friends would that make us? If you have some solutions to go with all your complaints, you should look for work with the US State Department. We have opportunities like that here in the US. I wish you well.
on March 13,2013 | 03:38PM
saveparadise wrote:
"I owe this country nothing", "No one fights for me", "911 justified"......are you exercising your freedom of speech just for the sake of negative attention or do you truly believe you would be better off as a citizen in another country? Why would you glorify a man or anyone killing Americans?? Corruption should be addressed at the corrupt. Our whole country is not corrupt. We feed the world, help the needy, and provide assistance to struggling countries. Most of us have relatives that fought in wars oversea. Was Hitler a hero to you as well??
on March 13,2013 | 01:10PM
Morimoto wrote:
I have respect for a man who did what he thought was right, against all odds. Think of it as "taking a life to save a life". Those soldiers he killed can no longer kill anyone on the battlefield, can no longer make some poor woman a widow, which is what they were going to do if Hasan didn't stop them. BTW the people who shot back at him were also justified in their response. No one is completely right or wrong, just different people fight for what they think is right.
on March 13,2013 | 01:42PM
saveparadise wrote:
Which is exactly why we use drones against our enemies. Our soldiers are not put at risk and the enemy is vanquished with minimal loss of life and future threats are resolved. Do not mock their bravery as they risk their lives just being in hostile territory. U.S. foreign affairs is complex and we choose our allies and even help our foes if they wish to comply with international treaties. We are a fair nation. These countries are poor to begin with. We do not create poor countries however they would like to place the blame. Oil trade with the U.S. and it's allies made millionaires out of camel drivers so not all influence was negative. The definition of a corrupt country is debatable as is an opinion. The murder conviction stands against Hasan and that case is closed. He is not a martyr by any means of imagination. What is your opinion of Hitler??
on March 13,2013 | 02:15PM
Anonymous wrote:
spoken like a true communist. if you despise your country, its democracy, its leadership, its governing body, its military branch, its freedoms and liberties that it affords to its citizens and residents, why do you choose to stay and even vote? you're welcomed to GTF0 and continue to fight your own battles from any where else on this planet. in some other nations, you'd be hunted down and executed, made an example of by its officials, just for whispering your own opinions. going back to this article, these partial - unjustified - unilaterally decided rulings are probably not limited to rape cases; "Under military law, a commander who convenes a court-martial is known as the convening authority and has the sole discretion to reduce or set aside guilty verdicts and sentences or to reverse a jury's verdict." there definitely needs to be some way to have a checks & balances system within the military justice system for any cases. the only surprise is why it has taken so long for this hearing to take place.
on March 13,2013 | 02:27PM
allie wrote:
Many 9/11 survivors never supported Bush's wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. They were right and Bush was wrong. We will pay for Bush's treachery and lies for decades to come.
on March 13,2013 | 01:15PM
FWS wrote:
President Bush has become a convenient scapegoat for all that is wrong with America. But some may recall that after 9/11, the American people wanted a response to be taken and they wanted it right away. There were no Neville Chamberlain “Peace in our Time” peaceniks calling for restraint. On the contrary, everyone wondered why it took so long to launch an offensive. Remember Operation INFINITE JUSTICE. Did Bush take the right actions? I don’t know, and neither do you. The American people elected him twice, so enough folks thought we were on the right track. We lost a lot of great Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope it was worth it. For the Iraqis who are free of Saddam Hussein and the Afghanis who are gaining their freedom from the Taliban, I think they would say what we did was worth it. I think every Afghani girl who can go to school without the fear of having acid thrown in their face or having their nose and ears cut off would agree as well. Freedom isn’t free.
on March 13,2013 | 02:12PM
Carang_da_buggahz wrote:
Sweetie, just WHAT do you know about our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq? Did you see the years of Saddam getting increasingly aggressive and dodging U.N. weapons inspectors? Did you know about the threats he posed to his OWN neighbors in the Middle East? Did you know about the Americans he held hostage for a time, all the while referring to them as his "guests"? Did you know about his neighbors' reluctance to take action against a fellow Muslim, yet secretly pleading with the U.S. to "do something"? Did you know about all the intelligence reports that were so sure that he was moving WMD about to conceal them? All you know about the long road to war is what you've read and heard in the Liberal Media. Funny, the majority of Americans demanded a strong response at the time. Fast-forward to 2013. With everything we know now, everyone is so quick to lay the blame entirely on Bush and his "lies". People conveniently forget that Bush did not unilaterally go to war. We had a Congress that had to approve this grave action. Yeah, no one remembers how their congressional delegation voted but it's so easy to put Bush's face on the decision. It's really, really easy to be a Saturday morning armchair quarterback, isn't it?
on March 13,2013 | 03:52PM
Waterman2 wrote:
So let's have more girls in the military ! In fact let's bring them on the battle field . Why not gays too ? Then we can have a whole new type of rape. US has gone lolo.
on March 13,2013 | 08:37AM
allie wrote:
hey!
on March 13,2013 | 01:16PM
FWS wrote:
No girls. We do have adult women in the US military who have volunteered to help defend the nation. In support of those who volunteer, the US military has an obligation to protect them and everyone serving in the military from sexual attack. The media would have us believe that all forms of debauchery are happening in our military. But in comparison with the civilian community, the number of sexual assaults in the military is extraordinarily low—though even one is already too many. Statistically, I believe military installations are much safer for women than most US university campuses. Even here in Hawaii, how many sexual attacks have been reported at the UH compared with all the military installations across the State? Some might argue that many don’t get reported, but that norm would be equally true for military or civilian institutions.
on March 13,2013 | 02:35PM
silvangold wrote:
HEY! wut????? das da truth.
on March 13,2013 | 02:20PM
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