Senate hears from military assault victims

March 14, 2013 at 7:35 AM
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WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) -- The way to end widespread-but-underreported military sexual assaults is to require an independent review of claims, survivors told a U.S. Senate committee.

The Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel took testimony from sexual assault survivors Wednesday as it considered possible solutions to the long-standing problem, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The controversy was highlighted by an Air Force lieutenant general's overturning a military jury verdict and sentence for Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who had been found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to one year in prison.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., asked officers from each branch who attended the hearing whether they thought justice was served and whether they thought the jury had erred.

In her opinion, Gillibrand said, "justice was not done."

Rebekah Havrilla, a military sexual assault survivor who advocates for reform through the Service Women's Action Network, said the Wilkerson case spotlighted what she said is common in the military.

Of the 2,439 formal reports submitted in 2011, only 240 proceeded to trial, the Times reported. Anonymous surveys of military personnel for 2011 indicated 19,000 instances of sexual harassment or assault went unreported.

Havrilla testified she was sexually harassed and raped while serving in the Army in Afghanistan. She said she hesitated to report the rape because previous accusations against her commanding officer were not followed up.

Additionally, "the unit climate was extremely sexist and hostile in nature toward women," she testified.

Another witness, Brian Lewis, a former petty officer in the Navy, testified he wanted to bring attention to male victims of sexual assault, whom he said were often overlooked, The New York Times reported. Lewis testified when he was raped in 2000 by an officer and when his command learned of the crime, "I was misdiagnosed as having a personality disorder."

Military officers testified about efforts in recent years to improve training of investigators. They also voiced concerns outside reviews could threaten the leadership of commanding officers and possibly slow responses to the reports they receive, the Los Angeles Times said.

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