Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., spoke out on Morning Joe against the military justice system after a fighter pilot’s sexual assault conviction was overturned by a military general.
General Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, ordered the release of fighter pilot James Wilkerson after a military jury convicted him in November of aggravated sexual assault. He was ordered to resign, forfeit his pay, and spend a year in jail.
“And with a stroke of pen last week, a general dismissed those charges against him. My heart is beating fast, I am so upset about this,” McCaskill testified in Congress last week. “I question now whether that unit, that that man returns to, whether there’s any chance a woman who is sexually assaulted would ever say a word because what that general just said is that jury’s decision doesn’t matter.”
Tuesday, on Morning Joe, McCaskill challenged the military justice system that allows commanders to overturn convictions without even stating a reason and creates a cultures that condones sexual misconduct.
There are an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults a year, but less than a fifth of those are reported to authorities. Of those reported, 92% were never tried–instead they were dismissed or settled with small penalties like fines or counseling. Of the few cases that are prosecuted, the accused’s commanders are the ones to decide their fates. It’s that conflict of interest that McCaskill said that prevents justice, “offends all of our sense of what’s right,” and perpetrates a military culture that keeps victims from speaking up about assault.
“I’m going to stay at this till we get a piece of justice for a whole lot of women out there many of whom are just afraid to come forward,” McCaskill said. “I want to make sure we are not just are we going after these crimes, but are we creating an environment for these women to come forward.”