Congress takes up issue of sexual assaults in the military
POSTED: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 9:30pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 - 9:34pm
NBC NATIONAL NEWS — The U.S. military's handling of sexual assault cases came under intense fire Wednesday in Congress.
Victims testified not only about being assaulted, but of the military failing to prosecute the assailants.
Victims told a Senate subcommittee of repeated assaults and of repeated refusal in the military to do anything to stop it.
"An Army Chaplain told me, among other things, that the rape was God's will," said Army veteran Rebekah Havrilla.
The Pentagon estimates 19,000 sexual assaults occur within the ranks every year.
Only a fraction get reported, though.
Critics say military commanders don't want or know how to deal with it.
"Nine times out of ten you're told to stay silent," said Anu Bhagwati, co-founder of the Service Women's Action Network.
Outrage over the issue reached a peak last month when Air Force General Craig Franklin overturned a military jury's verdict against Lt. Colonel James Wilkerson, who had been convicted last year of sexually assaulting Kimberly Hanks.
Hanks spoke exclusively to NBC's Michael Isikoff.
"I was absolutely stunned. It looks to me like he is protecting one of his own," she said.
The Wilkerson case produced fireworks at the hearing, and an admission by Pentagon officials that some review of military law was probably needed.
"There is something that, that seems odd about the power to reject findings that came out of jury," said Department of Defense Acting General Counsel Robert Taylor.
New Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a review of the Wilkerson case.