“You can’t handle the truth!”
Those famous words were the beginning of a speech from the movie “A Few Good Men,” in which the fictitious Col. Jessep explains why the decisions that high-ranking military personnel make should be above reproach. I’ve watched that scene countless times, and every time, I wonder at the ability of Jessep to justify unjust actions with shoddy rationale. I always wonder if that scene could ever play itself out in real life — if any high-ranking military officials could have the gall to support such an unjust action.
Over the past week, I realized I had grossly underestimated the possibility of this scenario.
According to the Huffington Post, in November, Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilkerson was convicted of sexual assault. He was found guilty by an all-male military jury, sentenced to one year in a military prison and dismissal from service. In a section of our society where rape is very prevalent but often goes ignored, it was refreshing to hear the stern message that was being sent to the participants in the rape culture of the Armed Forces: Rape is not allowed. Rape will be punished.
That all changed, however, when the Air Force commander overseeing Wilkerson’s case, Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, used his command authority to dismiss the charges against Wilkerson. Yes, you read that correctly. With the stroke of a pen, a convicted rapist was cleared of all wrongdoing, released from prison and reinstated into the Air Force. Franklin was not required to explain the reasoning behind his decision.
I’m still in shock.
The decision of a jury was overturned by one high-ranking official. What message does this send to the victims of rape throughout the armed services?
How do you possibly justify letting a convicted rapist roam freely?
It seems that every few months, we as an American society must revisit the ugly subject of rape. What truly troubles me about this is that it perpetuates what is called “rape culture.” Rape culture is a societal structure that teaches men and women that rape is inevitable, that men are uncontrollable sexual animals, and that the best thing a woman can do is find some way to protect herself, whether that’s through a gun or other means.
The truth is, if we teach young boys not to rape, they won’t rape. When I was growing up, my father made it very clear that no means no and that forcing yourself on a woman is never okay. If more boys got that education, then rape culture could start to be dismantled.
However, when Air Force generals deem it necessary to overturn rape convictions, that sends a message to rapists throughout the Armed Forces that rape is okay, that women who speak out against rape are somehow overreacting or they deserve it, and that as long as you’re an exemplary soldier, rape will be excused.
The solution to this problem is twofold. First, we need to support Sen. Claire McCaskill in her efforts to make sure justice will be done. Write letters, talk to your local recruiters, inform other people. Outrage against injustice is the quickest way to ensure justice will be done.
The second part of the solution is more difficult. We must rid ourselves of rape culture. I, as a man, say that rape is not okay. There is no circumstance in which a woman is asking to be raped. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. The moment a woman is forced into unwanted sexual interaction, rape has occurred. The more men that stand up for their belief in these principles, the faster that rape culture will be shattered, and women everywhere can be freed from this oppressive system.
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