It's hard enough for a woman to report a case of sexual assault, given the lingering judgments of the victim herself and suspicions – ones not present in cases of robbery or simple assault – that the victim must be lying or brought the attack on herself. It is even harder for a woman in the overwhelmingly male-dominated military to make such a charge, since she faces not only the same sexist judgments a civilian woman endures, but the added backlash from fellow soldiers she must rely on for her very safety in the field.
It's unconscionable that a woman could accuse someone of sexual assault, win in a military courtroom, and then have the attacker go free because a high-ranking military officer who wasn't even present at the trial decides for himself that the guy just couldn't have done it.
But such was the case with Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, who, the Washington Post reports, overruled a guilty verdict because he had personal suspicions about the credibility of the woman who made the accusation.
Franklin, according to a letter the Post obtained, believed it was impossible that the convicted man, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, could have committed the "egregious crime of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman" because he was a "doting father and husband." He also had been tapped for promotion.
The logic is so appallingly circular and nonsensical that it provokes worries about what sort of other equations the Lt. Gen. might be making on the job. The attacker has been observed being a good guy, so he couldn't possibly commit a crime? Isn't that the story of so many criminals? How many times does a news story about an accused murderer include quotes from the neighbors saying how he always kept his lawn well-trimmed and helped people take down their outdoor Christmas lights?
Does Franklin really think fathers and husbands don't commit sex crimes? More stunningly, Franklin isn't a judge and hadn't even been at the trial. He also considered evidence not allowed at trial. What, then, is the point of a trial at all, if a general can simply overrule a jury (an all-male jury, in this case) and substitute his own judgment?
Franklin, in his letter, said "it would have been an act of cowardice on my part and a breach of my integrity" to let the jury verdict stand. Franklin upended the very notion of criminal justice by making the case a test of overall character instead of criminal behavior. He's made a judgment, all right – and it's directed at the victim. How many more women, then, will have the courage to come forward after being sexually assaulted?
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