June 27, 2013

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Jackie Speier (D- San Francisco/San Mateo), along with 25 members of the House of Representatives, have formally requested further action by the Air Force regarding the sexual assault case against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson. In a letter to Eric Fanning, Acting Secretary of the Air Force, Rep. Speier and the letter’s co-signers call the exoneration of Wilkerson a “miscarriage of justice.”

“Many in the military have described sexual assault as a "cancer" in the ranks that you are struggling to combat,” the letter states. “The most meaningful thing that can be done to address this cancer is to hold offenders accountable. This is a clear and important opportunity to follow through with what you and others consistently state is a zero tolerance policy.”

Specifically, Rep. Speier and the letter’s co-signers call for an immediate Involuntary Discharge Board and recommend that Wilkerson be given a grade determination for the purpose of demoting him to his rank at the time of his first offense.

Wilkerson was convicted by a court martial in November 2012 of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault, and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer. Earlier this year, Lt. General Craig Franklin used his power as convening authority of the court martial to unilaterally overturn the conviction and close the case, based on his assessment of Wilkerson’s character. Then, earlier this month, the Air Force confirmed that Lt. Col. Wilkerson is guilty of a separate extramarital affair previous to this incident and fathered a child from that affair. 

Speier stated, “Looking at how this case was handled, one can only determine that military justice and real justice are two very different things. A single general with no legal background can unilaterally overturn a punishment determined by a judge or jury. This is but one of many glaring flaws in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Travesties like these continue to damage the military as an institution.”

According to a report from the Sexual Assault Prevention And Response Office (SAPRO) at the Department of Defense, there were an estimated 26,000 incidents of sexual assault in the military last year, up from 19,000 in 2011. Only 9.8% of victims ever report the crimes, however, down from 13.5% in 2011. Overall, nearly 1/3 of woman who reported sexual assaults say they experienced some form of intimidation.

Earlier this year, Congresswoman Speier reintroduced her bill the STOP Act to create an impartial office within the military to handle cases of rape and sexual assault outside of the chain of command. She also offered language to the National Defense Authorization Act to remove sexual assault offenses from the military chain of command. The amendment was voted down largely on party lines.

The full letter can be read here: