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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Congress Takes Up Sexual Assault In The Military

Jessica Hinves was a fighter jet mechanic when she was raped by a fellow service member at Lackland Air Force Base. (Courtesy Cinedigm/Docurama Films)

Jessica Hinves was a fighter jet mechanic when she was raped by a fellow service member at Lackland Air Force Base. (Courtesy Cinedigm/Docurama Films)

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Senate is taking up the problem of military sexual assaults (MSAs).

Wednesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing comes on the heels of recent charges of systemic sexual assault occurring at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Thirty-two training instructors at Lackland Air Force base have been accused of sexually assaulting 62 trainees during basic training.

The House Armed Services Committee hearing into the scandal was sparsely attended and top military officials left before victims’ testimony.

Airman 1st Class Jessica Hinves. (Courtesy Cinedigm/Docurama Films)

Airman 1st Class Jessica Hinves. (Courtesy Cinedigm/Docurama Films)

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that if the military doesn’t take steps to deal with the problem, it’s going to get worse.

In 2011, nearly 3,000 cases of sexual assault were reported in the armed forces. About 240 of them were prosecuted.

But Panetta has said the actual number of sexual assaults is likely around 19,000, since only 20 percent of sexual assaults are reported because of fear of retaliation.

Earlier this week, some lawmakers questioned how the military deals with these cases, including how much power commanding officers are given in dealing with them.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice gives the commanding officer power to overturn legal decisions or lessen sentences handed down by judges and juries at courts martial. It’s called “convening authority.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced in a letter to lawmakers on Monday that he will begin “an internal review of a decision by a senior Air Force commander to overturn the sexual assault conviction of an Air Force fighter pilot.”

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin dismissed charges against a lieutenant colonel convicted of sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force/AP)

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin dismissed charges against a lieutenant colonel convicted of sexual assault. (U.S. Air Force/AP)

This case involves Lieutenant General Craig Franklin, who dismissed the conviction of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson, who had been sentenced to a year in military prison for groping a sleeping woman. After his conviction was overturned, Wilkerson returned to his post.

One of the suggested reforms is the proposed Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention (STOP) Act.

First introduced in 2011 by California Rep. Jackie Speier, her office says it would “take the reporting, oversight, investigation and victim care of sexual assaults out of the hands of the military’s normal chain of command and place jurisdiction in the newly created, autonomous sexual assault oversight and response office comprised of civilian and military experts.”

The STOP Act died in committee last year, but Rep. Speier says she plans to re-introduce it in the next few weeks.

On Tuesday, Sepier introduced another piece of legislation, the Military Judicial Reform Act, which if passed would remove the powers of convening authority.

To take a closer look at the issue of sexual assaults in the military, Here & Now spoke with Jessica Hinves. She was an Air Force fighter jet mechanic when she was raped at Lackland Air Force Base.

Hinves is now a member of the advocacy board of Protect Our Defenders, a group that works to being attention to military sexual assault.

Makers of the documentary “The Invisible War” produced this video about her:

Guests:

  • Susan Burke, a lawyer specializing in cases of military sexual assault
  • Jessica Hinves, former fighter jet mechanic for the Air Force who was raped by a fellow service member. She’s now a member of the advocacy board of Protect Our Defenders.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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