Aviano victim backs Gillibrand sex assault bill

The victim in a sexual assault case that sparked widespread outrage in Congress came out in favor of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) controversial plan to take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command.

Kimberly Hanks wrote an op-ed in USA Today arguing that commanders should not be involved in the military justice system.

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was convicted of assaulting Hanks at Aviano Air Base in Italy earlier this year, but Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned the conviction.

The decision to overturn the conviction drew the ire of lawmakers, and was one of the key incidents that prompted legislation to change the military’s judicial system this year.

Congress is poised to pass a measure to strip commanders’ ability to overturn guilty verdicts, which Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has also endorsed.

GIllibrand’s bill would take the decision to prosecute sexual assault and other major crimes away from commanders, giving it to military prosecutors.

The measure would not have affected the outcome of Hanks’s case, but she argued her story shows why commanders are inherently biased when deciding cases.

“Commanders don't need this duty; they have shown time and time again they do not handle it well,” she wrote. “It's not a lack of faith that is the reason for this change; it's a realization that bias and conflict exists in favor of the often higher-ranking perpetrator, and victims will continue to fear coming forward.”

Gillibrand’s measure is expected to get a vote this week as an amendment to the Defense authorization bill. It needs 60 votes tos pass.