A recent Pentagon reports says that 19,000 sexual assaults occur yearly on average. The Senate Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel convened Wednesday to hear victims' testimony on sexual assault in the military--the first such hearing in a decade.
Subcommittee Chair Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) told Andrea Mitchell Reports Thursday that only one in 100 sexual assault cases in the military results in a conviction.
"[The] vast number aren't reporting because they do not believe--this is the testimony we heard yesterday--they're afraid, they're afraid of retaliation," she said. "They're afraid of being held accountable for something they've done. They're afraid of not being able to stay in the military and having no ability to be promoted and to do their service," Gillibrand said.
One case that has enraged lawmakers on the subcommittee is that of Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson, an Air Force Lt. Col. convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to a year in jail last November. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Wilkerson's superior, Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, was able to unilaterally overturn the charges and reinstate Wilkerson.
"I don't understand the military code of justice in that it was a reason for dismissal for expulsion from the military until last year, if you violated Don't Ask Don't Tell. Yet, if you were found guilty in a military court of a criminal assault, of rape, you could go back to your unit. How is that possible?" Mitchell asked.
"It's outrageous and it's something that should outrage every American," Gillibrand said. "When you enter the military, you may expect to lose a limb. You may expect to even lose your life. But no one should be expecting to be assaulted or raped by one of their colleagues."
msnbc's Andrea Mitchell asked Sen. Gillibrand why the issue of sexual assault in the military seemed to come into focus only after a woman senator became chair of the committee.
"Coincidence?" Mitchell asked.
"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," Gillibrand said. "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."