Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

March 22, 2013

Sex scandal that plagues the military

WASHINGTON — The best nominated film not to win an Oscar this year is “The Invisible War,” a riveting account of sexual assault in the military focusing on the elite Marine barracks in Washington, just blocks from the White House and a bridge away from the Pentagon.

With harrowing interviews of those preyed upon, the documentary shows what little recourse victims have, how reprisals are more likely than justice, and how perpetrators are as likely to get promoted as to get charged. Two of those interviewed filed lawsuits against the military over an atmosphere that tolerates rapists while quieting the survivors.

The sequel to the documentary played out last week in Congress as the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Personnel tried to make the invisible visible. In its first hearings since an inquiry into the Air Force Academy scandal in 2003, the committee had a fresh case to consider.

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, a former fighter pilot at Aviano Air Base in Italy was accused of sexual assault after a late-night party at his house in March 2012. At trial, Wilkerson, who didn’t take the stand, was convicted, sentenced to a year in prison and dismissed from the Air Force. Then last month his commanding officer, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, overturned the conviction, clearing Wilkerson’s record and returning him to duty.

The subcommittee heard from four former service members who found themselves endangered not by the enemy but from their own.

Former Army Sgt. Rebekah Havrilla testified that she was raped by a fellow service member in Afghanistan and told by an Army chaplain that it was God’s way of getting her to go back to church.

She didn’t press charges until she found out that her assailant had posted pictures of her on a pornographic website. Then the married officer said the sex was consensual, and officials in his chain of command decided not to charge him with the assault (or adultery).

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