Protect Our Defenders News Blog

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Ask President Obama to #EndVictimBlaming Against Military Sexual Assault Survivors

Posted by POD Staff, May 26th, 2015

A message from Protect Our Defenders President Don Christensen:

President Obama told victims of military sexual assault that he has “got their back.”

Now it is time for him to prove it. With Protect Our Defenders’ support, Human Rights Watch produced and released a major report last week that found that victims who report their attacks are “12 times more likely to experience retaliation than to see their attacker convicted.” The DoD also found that 62% of women who report a sexual assault later experience retaliation.

But military brass continue to discredit sexual assault survivors, suggesting victims only think they are being retaliated against and that such “perceived” retaliation is a misunderstanding.

In reality, retaliation includes relentless harassment and isolation. It’s suddenly receiving downgraded performance reports that end a promising career, or being misdiagnosed with a personality disorder and getting kicked out of the service without benefits.

That is why we are calling on President Obama to stop the military’s disgraceful attempts to smear victims.

Join us and tweet @POTUS to address Pentagon victim blaming:

Sample tweet: Victims of #MST are attacked for speaking out. @POTUS told survivors he’s “got their back.” It’s time for him to prove it. #EndVictimBlaming

It’s despicable that our men and women in uniform are assaulted, retaliated against and then accused of lying. This victim blaming has gone on for far too long.

Thank you for your support of this issue.

Sincerely,

Col. Don Christensen (ret.), President, Protect Our Defenders
Former US Air Force Chief Prosecutor

P.S. Click here to get a pre-populated tweet.

Protect Our Defenders Foundation sends email to supporters who seeks to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country.


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders’ Remarks from Human Rights Watch Press Conference

Posted by POD Staff, May 18th, 2015
*** STATEMENT *** 
 
REMARKS FROM MIRANDA PETERSEN, PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS PROGRAM AND POLICY DIRECTOR AT HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH PRESS CONFERENCE 

I’d like to start by recognizing the incredible work of Human Rights Watch in shining a light on this pervasive and devastating issue. We have been honored to work with them throughout this process. I’d also like to acknowledge the survivors who have demonstrated such strength in sharing their personal stories of retaliation and reprisal.

This report exposes the grave reality for the majority of survivors of rape and sexual assault in the military. Retaliation is the norm, and it is often severe. Superiors either look the other way or actively engage in retaliation. This report affirms what we see daily, through our Pro Bono Network: servicemembers who face retaliation have nowhere within the system to turn, and know that most likely no one will be held accountable. This leaves survivors with two practical options: either suffer in silence, or leave the military.

Last year, according to the Pentagon’s own numbers, 62 percent of victims who reported their assaults experienced retaliation—a rate unchanged over the two prior years.

You would think that these numbers would raise alarm and result in effective action from military leaders. Instead, the Pentagon seems intent on downplaying the severity of this problem and discrediting the victim. By labeling reports of retaliation as merely “perceptions,” the Pentagon has insinuated that victims are too sensitive to accurately interpret their own environment and that what is reported as retaliation is actually an exaggerated response to harmless behavior, such as not being invited to a party or being un-friended on Facebook. This approach is shameful and offensive, and minimizes the extreme harassment and abuse that so many survivors face.

Contrary to the Pentagon’s portrayal, this is not about hurt feelings. As the Human Rights Watch report documents, it is about survivors facing relentless harassment and isolation by peers and superiors that goes unchecked. It is about being assigned menial tasks by supervisors, like picking up garbage after reporting your assault. It is about suddenly receiving downgraded performance reports that end a promising career. And its about being charged with minor offenses such as underage drinking, revealed while reporting a rape, or being misdiagnosed with a personality disorder, as a device to force victims out of the service. This is what retaliation really looks like. It is life destroying.

In refusing to acknowledge the true nature of this problem and failing to hold bad actors accountable, the Pentagon is tacitly sanctioning the ongoing harassment and abuse of survivors, who have already suffered from the assault. Survivors frequently tell us that, while the actual assault was devastating, the betrayal of a corrupt system and retaliation by commanders and coworkers was far more traumatic.

The Pentagon must take the energy currently being spent opposing reforms and dismissing retaliation and begin taking steps to prevent assaults and protect and respect survivors. It is time for our military to implement a transparent and professional system of justice, and to hold those who make the military a hostile environment for victims of rape and sexual assault accountable. It’s time for the President to take action.


PRESS RELEASE: Protect Our Defenders and Human Rights Watch Release Report on Retaliation of Military Sexual Assault Survivors

Posted by POD Staff, May 18th, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 18, 2014

*** PRESS RELEASE *** 
 
PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH RELEASE REPORT ON RETALIATION OF MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVORS

Washington, DC, May 18, 2015) – US military service members who report sexual assault frequently experience retaliation that goes unpunished, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report is the result of an 18-month investigation by Human Rights Watch with the support of Protect Our Defenders, a human rights organization that supports and advocates for survivors of military sexual assault. Despite extensive reforms by the Defense Department to address sexual assault, the military has done little to hold retaliators to account or provide effective remedies for retaliation.

The 113-page report, “Embattled: Retaliation against Sexual Assault Survivors in the US Military,” finds that both male and female military personnel who report sexual assault are 12 times as likely to experience some form of retaliation as to see their attacker convicted of a sex offense. Retaliation against survivors ranges from threats, vandalism, and harassment to poor work assignments, loss of promotion opportunities, disciplinary action including discharge, and even criminal charges.

Read Full Post…


The US Military’s Sexual-Assault Problem Is So Bad the UN Is Getting Involved

Posted by POD Staff, May 14th, 2015

Mother Jones reports:

Denmark’s representative to the UN Human Rights Council, Carsten Staur, recommended “removing from the chain of command the decision about whether to prosecute cases of alleged assault.”  His comments marked the “first time that a human rights body has called upon the U.S. to remove key decision-making authority from the chain of command in cases alleging sexual violence,” noted Liz Brundige, the Avon Global Center’s director, in a press release.

Read more here.


US troops charged with crimes in Italy often elude punishment

Posted by POD Staff, May 14th, 2015

Stars and Stripes reports:

In an Italian court last month, Pvt. Darius McCullough was convicted of rape and sentenced to six years in prison.

But he’s also scheduled to rotate out of Italy on Saturday, so it’s possible he’ll never see the inside of a cell.

The disconnect comes from a painfully ponderous Italian justice system, a reluctance to jail U.S. military defendants, and the obscure workings of the status of forces agreement — the legal framework governing U.S. troops in Italy.

Read more here.


Improve response to sex crimes in the military

Posted by POD Staff, May 13th, 2015

From an op-ed in the Missoulian supporting Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) Military Justice Improvement Act:

It is our belief that provisions New York’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced in 2013 and 2014, if enacted, would improve reporting, apprehension and competent prosecution of sexual offenders. The most important of these provisions is to shift the responsibility for prosecuting sexual offenses from individual commands to independent military courts. The command, which must maintain “good order and discipline,” would relinquish trial of sexual offenses to prosecutors trained in the law and who are accustomed to working with “evidence,” and systematically distance the command from prosecuting a colleague or valued member of the team.

Read more here.


New York Times Op-Ed: Stop Assaults on Military Campuses

Posted by POD Staff, May 12th, 2015

From the opinion pages of the New York Times:

There is a simple way for President Obama, in his capacity as commander in chief, to put an end to this impunity. To provide cadets and midshipmen with a meaningful way to challenge sex discrimination at their academies, he should issue an executive order modeled on Title IX’s legal protections. This order would, in effect, borrow Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination and create a pathway for Title IX-like complaints within the Defense Department. The president should also order the Pentagon’s inspector general to enforce this anti-discrimination rule at the academies.

Over the past decade, public outcry about sexual assault on college campuses and in the military has spurred legal reform. But one group at the intersection of these issues — women at the service academies — are still waiting for meaningful change. Last year, while announcing a new task force on gender-based violence on civilian campuses, Mr. Obama spoke to survivors directly: “I’ve got your back,” he said. Female cadets and midshipmen volunteer to serve our country — the president should have their backs, too.

Read more here.


Twice as many sex assault victims opting out

Posted by POD Staff, May 12th, 2015

Protect Our Defenders President Col. Don Christensen is featured in this Air Force Times article:

But retired Col. Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor, thinks the swelling numbers of victims opting out is a cause for concern and shows victims may be losing confidence. Christensen, who is now president of Protect our Defenders, a group that advocates for survivors of sexual assault in the military, says the length of time it takes to resolve a sexual assault case, as well as the retaliation sexual assault victims sometimes suffer after they come forward, is discouraging some victims from continuing with their cases.

“As time drags on and they start to see how they’re being treated throughout the process, it becomes a disincentive for them to keep going forward,” Christensen said.

Grosso said the statistic could show that the newly established special victims’ counsels, who advocate on behalf of sexual assault victims, are increasingly helping those victims remove themselves from a process they no longer wish to be a part of.

Read more here.

 


In light of new report, ROTC students ponder military’s sexual assault policies

Posted by POD Staff, May 11th, 2015

USA Today reports:

For students enrolled in Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) or those considering enlisting in the armed forces upon graduation, the often disputed statistics on sexual violence in the military community force them to think about the extent of their service.

Laura Loyola, a sophomore at Drew University and a private in the Army National Guard, considered the prevalence of sexual violence in the U.S. military before deciding to commit to an ROTC program beginning in the upcoming fall semester.

“I can’t say that I didn’t think about it before enlisting,” said Loyola. “But, sexual assault can happen anywhere at any given moment, so it shouldn’t be something that holds you back from such a great experience.”

Read more here.


Editorial: Protecting our service members against sexual assault

Posted by POD Staff, May 7th, 2015

The Washington Post editorial board writes in support of fundamental reform:

A DEFENSE Department report this month found that fewer men and women in uniform said they were subjected to unwanted sexual attention last year and that there has been an increase in victims reporting sex-related crimes. The improvements are, at best, incremental and overshadowed by the unsettling statistic that 62 percent of women who filed sexual assault complaints last year said they faced retaliation for doing so. Reforms that have been put in place, while commendable, are clearly not sufficient to combat a problem so deep-rooted it has plagued the military for decades.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is right in saying enough is enough. We hope her renewed push to correct a major defect in how these crimes are investigated and prosecuted gains traction in Congress.

The Pentagon report used a workplace survey to estimate that 18,900 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact or assault last year, down from 26,000 in 2012 but in line with 19,300 reported in 2010. Seventy-six percent of servicewomen and nearly half of servicemen who were surveyed said sexual harassment is common or very common. Victims are so distrustful about getting fair treatment that only a fraction of those who are assaulted report the offense.

Read more here.


No witnesses or arguments at Air Force Academy sexual assault hearing

Posted by POD Staff, May 6th, 2015

The Colorado Springs Gazette reports:

The academy said the brief hearing came amid changes in military procedures for evidence hearings. In January, military rules limited the scope of the hearings and allowed victims not to testify.

Those changes aside, lawyers are allowed to argue their case and call witnesses. Tuesday’s hearing was the first in recent years in which prosecutors declined to call witnesses.

Eugene Fidell, an expert in military law and lecturer at Yale, said similar instances have been rare.

“There are times when government, defense, and complainant(s)’ interests may all align to frustrate the public’s right to a public hearing,” Fidell wrote in an email.

Brian Purchia, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C., advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, which is pushing for enhanced protection of military victims of sexual assault, said the prosecution’s handling of the hearing raises some concern.

Read more here.


Senator Says Pentagon ‘Declaring Victory’ as It Distorts Sexual Assault Numbers

Posted by POD Staff, May 5th, 2015

ABC News reports:

When the Pentagon released a new report last Friday detailing what one top official described as “meaningful progress” in combatting the military’s sexual assault epidemic, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was preparing to release a report of her own.

It might as well have been titled, “Not So Fast.”

In a press conference last week, the Pentagon announced a new military-wide survey had estimated the number of sexual assaults dropped from 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact in 2012 to 20,000 in 2014.

Gillibrand, D-NY, said in an interview with ABC News that the Pentagon is distorting the actual numbers of sexual assaults because it doesn’t measure the rates of service members who sexually assault spouses or civilians.

Read more here.


Sexual Assault By Military Personnel Still Hidden ‘In The Shadows,’ US Senator Says

Posted by POD Staff, May 4th, 2015

The International Business Times reports:

Just days after the Pentagon said its initiatives to tackle sexual assault in the military were paying off, a U.S. senator has accused the Defense Department of hiding the actual extent of such crimes. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said on Monday that a large number of cases continue to “remain in the shadows,” according to a report by the Associated Press.

“I don’t think the military is being honest about the problem,” Gillibrand reportedly said, after analyzing over 100 sexual assault cases. Spouses of service members and female civilians living near military facilities are most likely to be assaulted, she said, adding that these cases are not counted by the Pentagon while determining the prevalence of sexual assault in the military.

Moreover, of the 107 cases she reviewed, less than a quarter went to trial and just 11 resulted in conviction for sexual assault, Gillibrand told the AP. In several cases, the victims do not testify because they have been presumably intimidated, she reportedly said.

Read more here.


[VIDEO] Military sex assaults ‘far greater’ than reported, says Senator

Posted by POD Staff, May 4th, 2015

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joins Andrea Mitchell to talk about why the numbers in the Defense Department’s annual report on sex assaults in the military are far greater than the report is letting on.

Watch here.


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Responds to Sen. Gillibrand’s Report on Military Sexual Assault

Posted by POD Staff, May 4th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 4, 2015

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS TO NEW MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT REPORT THAT REVEALS HIGH RATES OF ASSAULTS AGAINST CIVILIANS AND MILITARY SPOUSES, AND MANY VICTIMS FAIL TO REPORT THEIR ATTACKS FOR FEAR OF RETALIATION 

Washington, D.C. - Today, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) released a new report on military sexual assault at the four largest military bases in the country. A review of 107 case files found high rates of assault against civilian women and military spouses. These two survivor groups are not included in Pentagon surveys on sexual assault, which call into question the accuracy of the number of victims and extent of the ongoing epidemic.

Senator Gillibrand’s report highlights that victims still do not have enough confidence in the military justice system to report their attacks, and that nearly half of the survivors who did report eventually declined to move forward with their case.

Today, Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor and Protect Our Defenders President Col Don Christensen (ret.) released the following statement:

“This report is shocking. It exposes how many civilians are victims of the sexual assault crisis in our military and the depths the military will go to obstruct change. Clearly, the Pentagon has been hiding the ball from the American public and our elected officials. Military leaders continue to try and spin the scope of the problem with cherry picked information that only tells half of the story.

“This should be a wake up call for President Obama and anybody that thinks the military can solve this problem without creating an independent and impartial justice system. This ongoing, but solvable sexual assault crisis is costing our country hundreds of millions of dollars every year, while our mothers, daughters, sisters and friends have become victims in cities and towns from Washington, DC to California. How many of these rapists are now living in communities without any appropriate tracking? “

The full report is available online and an overview of the findings from Sen. Gillibrand’s office follows below.

  • In 53 percent of the cases, survivors were civilian women or military spouses.
    The case files documented assault against two survivor groups not counted within the DOD’s sexual assault prevalence surveys: 32 percent of reports were filed by civilian women; 21 percent of reports were filed by civilian military spouses. Given that these survivor groups are overlooked in survey data, the total survivor population may be far larger than current estimates. The DOD’s sexual assault report for 2013 – the same year as these case files – estimated 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact.
  • Majority of military spouses decline to pursue charges.
    In nearly 73 percent of the cases involving servicemembers’ spouses, the spouse declined to pursue charges of sexual assault. Only one case involving a military spouse moved forward, and the servicemember was acquitted.
  • Nearly half of survivors who filed an unrestricted report declined to move forward.
    Of the 104 cases where unrestricted reports were filed, 50 declined to move forward. Of the 50, many voluntarily submitted to the intrusive sexual assault evidence collect kit, only to suspend their cases later in the process. In the DOD’s most recent sexual assault report, 62 percent of women who reported a sexual assault perceived some form of retaliation – a rate unmoved from previous reports despite a commitment to change the climate.
  • Few cases move to trial, met with low conviction rates and less punishment.
    Of the 107 cases, 24 proceed to trial. Of the cases that proceed to trial, only 11 resulted in a sexual assault conviction; six were convicted of a lesser charge that carried more lenient penalties like administrative discharge or a reduction in rank versus confinement and dishonorable discharge for sexual assault conviction. The remaining seven cases that did proceed to trial were acquitted.
  • When conviction happen, the accused likely confessed.
    Of the 11 cases that did result in a sexual assault conviction, five included statements where the accused admitted to the crime.
  • When cases go cold, accuser likely to have denied it happened or claimed consent.
    In 34 of the 107 case files, the accused told investigators that the assault did not happen or claimed that the sex was consensual. Of those 34 cases, command took action just 10 times, and none of these cases resulted in conviction. Significantly, 27 of the 34 cases where the accuser denied the action or claimed consent did not go to trial at all.

-

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: Snapshot Review of Sexual Assault Report Files at the Four Largest U.S. Military Bases in 2013

http://www.gillibrand.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Gillibrand_Sexual%20Assault%20Report.pdf

Associated Press: Sen. Gillibrand accuses Pentagon of withholding sex crimes info

http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/national/sen-gillibrand-accuses-pentagon-of-withholding-sex-crimes-info/2228196

New York Times Magazine: The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/magazine/the-militarys-rough-justice-on-sexual-assault.html?ref=magazine&_r=2

Associated Press: Documents reveal chaotic military sex-abuse record

http://www.bigstory.ap.org/article/documents-reveal-chaotic-military-sex-abuse-record-1

About Protect Our Defenders: Protect Our Defenders (POD) is a human rights organization.  We seek to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country and re-victimized by the military adjudication system. POD provides pro bono casework and legal assistance to survivors. Learn more about Protect Our Defenders at www.protectourdefenders.com or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ProtectOurDefenders or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ProtectRDfnders.

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[VIDEO] Bulk of women soldiers who report sexual assault report retaliation

Posted by POD Staff, May 3rd, 2015

A survey published this week showed that a large percentage of women soldiers who reported unwanted sexual advances said they faced retaliation. USA Today reporter Tom Vanden Brook joins PBS’ Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

Read and watch more here.

 


AP: Pentagon struggles to assess, stamp out retaliation in sexual assault cases

Posted by POD Staff, May 1st, 2015

The Associated Press reports:

It’s not against the law or military regulations to choose not to sit with someone in the dining hall or to unfriend them on Facebook, but in the traumatic aftermath of a sexual assault, a victim could interpret those moves as retaliation.

In these days when a tweet or Instagram photo can be wielded as weapons, the Pentagon is struggling to define retaliation and rein in bullying or other behavior that victims perceive as vengeful. At the same time, military leaders are expanding efforts to better train their lower- and midlevel commanders to detect and deal with retaliation, while also insuring that other, more innocent actions are not misinterpreted by assault victims.

On Friday, the Pentagon released a deeper analysis of the sexual assault survey data made public last December. That report acknowledges the difficulties in gathering data about retaliation, including problems with how some of the survey questions may have been misinterpreted and that incidents of retaliation may have been over counted.

Read more here.

 


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Responds to New Military Sexual Assault Report

Posted by POD Staff, May 1st, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 1, 2015

*** STATEMENT ***

 PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS TO NEW REPORT EXPOSING RAMPANT RETALIATION AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT AGAINST SURVIVORS OF MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT 

Washington, D.C. - Today, the Pentagon released its annual report on sexual assault in the military. The report provides disturbing details of this entrenched problem, as well as the widespread mistreatment of survivors. Both the results of a large anonymous survey conducted by RAND Corporation and the Department of Defense’s own numbers on official reports demonstrate a systemic failure in confronting rape in the military.

The report shows no significant improvement in assault and harassment rates from five years ago. In 2014 alone, 20,300 service members were sexually assaulted or raped, many by their fellow service members.

Disturbingly, 62% of service members who reported sexual assault experienced retaliation for coming forward. The majority of these victims experienced reprisal from their chain of command, with 35% facing adverse administrative action, 32% facing professional retaliation, and 11% receiving punishment for an infraction. Instead of taking responsibility for these numbers, the DoD has shamefully attempted to undermine victims, labeling reports of retaliation as simply “perceived”

In addition, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 14 men in the military were sexually harassed or experienced gender discrimination in 2014, and 60% of service members who were sexually harassed were harassed by someone in their chain of command.

Read Full Post…


April news roundup from Protect Our Defenders

Posted by POD Staff, April 30th, 2015

Here’s your monthly digest of top news on our fight against sexual assault in the military.

New Whistleblower Legislation

  • Yesterday, Sens. Boxer, Wyden, and Markey introduced a bill to protect those who blow the whistle on military wrongdoings, including sexual abuse. “Servicemembers who bravely speak out about wrongdoing or misconduct — especially sexual assault survivors — deserve to know that they will be protected from retaliation,” Boxer said. [Defense One]
  • Rep. Speier also filed the bill as an amendment in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

NPR: When Civilians Accuse Troops of Rape, Military Courts Often Decide

  • Brittany Bentz reported that she was sexually assaulted at the age of 16 by a U.S. Air Force member. As civilians, she and her mother, Melinda, were shocked by their treatment in the military legal system, reports NPR.
  • As I explained in the story: “The court martial process is unlike any other criminal process in this country. It’s confusing enough for military members who go through the process. But for a civilian who has no ties to the military, it is like entering another world.” [National Public Radio]
  • We connected NPR’s Quil Lawrence with the Bentz family and found them a lawyer through our Pro Bono Network.

Read Full Post…


PRESS RELEASE: Madeleine Albright Joins Protect Our Defenders Advisory Board

Posted by POD Staff, April 14th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 14, 2015

*** PRESS RELEASE *** 

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT JOINS

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS ADVISORY BOARD 

Washington, D.C. – Today, the human rights organization, Protect Our Defenders announced that former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has joined its Advisory Board. Dr. Albright served as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, and is the first female to hold the position in U.S. history. In 2012, Dr. Albright received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

Dr. Albright joins an advisory board that includes General Wesley Clark (ret.), Kwame Anthony Appiah, a recipient of the 2012 National Humanities Medal and the 2007 Arthur Ross award of the Council on Foreign Relations, along with Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, and Lt General Claudia Kennedy (ret.), the first female to reach the rank of three-star general in the U.S. Army and many survivors of sexual assault in the military and other advocates working to create a professional and unbiased military justice system.

Today, Dr. Albright released the following statement:

“As someone who has the deepest respect and admiration for the men and women of the United States military, I am honored to join Protect Our Defenders’ advisory board. I strongly support their efforts to give voice to service members who have been sexually assaulted or harassed, and to ensure that our military justice system is impartial and effective. These crimes go against the core values of the armed forces. Eradicating sexual assault and harassment from our military will make it stronger and better, and I am proud to stand behind this cause.”

Read Full Post…


[VIDEO] Revealed: Violent, Sexual Unofficial Air Force Songbook

Posted by POD Staff, April 8th, 2015

In an interview with MSNBC, former Chief Prosecutor of the Air Force and Protect Our Defenders President Col Don Christensen (ret.) discusses songbooks used by Air Force commanders that encourage sexual violence and the need for an independent and impartial military justice system. Col Christensen explained that these songbooks, one which was submitted as evidence in a lawsuit filed by victims of military sexual assault last week, is still being used by officers and commanders today.

Read more here.


[AUDIO] NPR: When Civilians Accuse Troops Of Rape, Military Courts Often Decide

Posted by POD Staff, April 3rd, 2015

This NPR story exposes how civilian survivors of sexual assault in the military are forced to navigate an unfair justice system where they face intimidation, embarrassment, and hours of interrogation. In military courts, the legal rights victims have in the civilian world are often ignored, and these civilians have little to no support from the military during a trial.

The Air Force’s former chief prosecutor and Protect Our Defenders President Col Don Christensen said:

“The court martial process is unlike any other criminal process in this country. It’s confusing enough for military members who go through the process. But for a civilian who has no ties to the military, it is like entering another world.”

Listen to Brittany’s story and read more here.


Think Progress: This Lawsuit Could Change How The Military Handles Sexual Assault

Posted by POD Staff, April 2nd, 2015

Protect Our Defenders President Col Don Christensen is featured in this piece from Think Progress:

But many who work on this issue are skeptical that changes are coming. Protect Our Defenders, which advocates for victims of sexual assault, urges the DoD to take action. “The ongoing, but fixable sexual assault crisis is costing our military its best and brightest, not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars in VA costs every year. Unfortunately, the Pentagon continues to place commanders into an impossible position, in many cases they must choose who they believe between a victim and what appears to be a good solider, who may also be a sexual predator,” Col. Don Christensen, the former Chief Prosecutor of the Air Force and President of Protect Our Defenders said in a statement to ThinkProgress.

“The majority of victims remain in the shadows, while criminals terrorize more brave men and women in uniform and then these rapists are released into our communities without appropriate tracking,” Christensen said.

Read more here.


Daily Beast: The U.S. Air Force’s ‘Sick’ Rape & Party Songbook

Posted by POD Staff, March 31st, 2015

Protect Our Defenders President Col Don Christensen (ret.) and Communications Director Brian Purchia are featured in this Daily Beast article:

“What I’d like to see is [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh] stand up and try to sing one of these in front of the Senate and see how it goes,” Christensen told The Daily Beast. “There are women in these squadrons, there are men in these squadrons, who object to this stuff, they’re ostracized because they don’t go along with them.”

Out of the dozens of songs listed, Christensen is most unsettled by the Willy Wonka parody. “That’s the one about sticking ice picks in women’s ears and raping them from behind,” he said.

“It’s kind of crazy to compare this to the [University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon] situation,” Brian Purchia, Protect Our Defenders spokesman, said. “The university expelled the students and closed the frat within hours of the video being made public. What has the [Air Force] done to address this situation?”

Read more here.


USA Today: Suit revives controversy on Air Force explicit songbook

Posted by POD Staff, March 31st, 2015

Protect Our Defenders President Col. Don Christensen is featured in this USA Today article:

Retired Col. Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force and president of the military sexual assault victims advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, compared the songbook — and the lack of consequences for officers involved with it — to the video of a racist chant that recently shut down the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at the University of Oklahoma.

“We all just a few weeks ago saw this ugly scandal at the University of Oklahoma where there were kids straight out of high school singing a song — an inappropriate song, a horrible song,” Christensen said. “A 9-second video shut down the school.

“If you look at this book, it has the most misogynistic trash you can imagine. This is something that is used by Air Force officers today,” he said. “These are the commanders who sing songs about raping women as fun. These are the people Sgt. Smith has to look to get relief, to get justice.”

Read more here.


Air Force songbook contains pornographic, misogynistic lyrics

Posted by POD Staff, March 31st, 2015

Protect Our Defenders President Col Don Christensen (ret.) is featured in this article from Stars and Stripes:

image

The songbook is part of a continuing culture in the Air Force and military that glorifies sexual violence, retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, said president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military sex assault victims.

“This is something that is used by Air Force officers today,” Christensen said. “These are the commanders who sing songs about raping women as fun.”

The book is professionally printed and bound to mimic an official Air Force publication. The bottom of its pages are labeled “For Unofficial Use Only.”

WASHINGTON — An unofficial Air Force songbook made public during a federal lawsuit filing Tuesday includes lyrics about female genitalia and menstruation, child sex, gay airmen and bestiality.

The 130-page book is dated 2012 and stamped with the playing-cards logo of the 77th Fighter Squadron, which is known as the Gamblers and based at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. It was provided to Stars and Stripes by sexual assault reform advocates backing the lawsuit against the Defense Department, who said such songbooks are still being used by officers and commanders.

The lawsuit by sexual assault victims was filed in a Virginia federal court and calls for the DOD to stop using convening authorities to judge whether such cases go to court martial. As the military struggles with an epidemic of sex assaults, the use of such authorities has brought widespread scrutiny from the public and some on Capitol Hill who say the practice is biased toward perpetrators.

The songbook is part of a continuing culture in the Air Force and military that glorifies sexual violence, retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, said president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for military sex assault victims.

“This is something that is used by Air Force officers today,” Christensen said. “These are the commanders who sing songs about raping women as fun.”

The book is professionally printed and bound to mimic an official Air Force publication. The bottom of its pages are labeled “For Unofficial Use Only.”

It includes about 70 pornographic songs — many with obscene titles — as well as some drinking toasts. Titles include Pubic Hair, The Kotex Song, Will You Suck Me Tomorrow, The Hair on Her Diki-Di-Doo, and Bestiality.

Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Brooke Brzozowske said Tuesday that the service is looking into the issue but could not immediately comment on the songbook or the lawsuit.

Military cadences and songs are a long-established part of its culture and tradition, though such sexist and obscene imagery is not publicly endorsed by the services.

Beginning in 2012, the Air Force began what it calls health and welfare inspections to identify toxic work environments and make reforms to ensure all airmen feel comfortable and respected in the their units, Brzozowske said.

The unit songbook was originally brought the Air Force’s attention by former Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith, who appeared with other victims and advocates during a lawsuit press conference in Washington on Tuesday morning.

Smith said she was sexually assaulted by a fellow airman in Iraq and found copies of the book when she returned to the U.S. Initially there was no response after she notified Air Force officials but eventually Smith said she was contacted twice by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, who promised action.

“Gen. Welsh said he thought the traditions had died,” she said.

Six officers — all in command or supervisory positions — were given “paper” reprimands but were able to keep their positions, which means they could become convening authorities in sex assault cases, Smith said.

“They will oversee rape and sexual assault claims and file decisions on whether the case will be prosecuted,” she said.

The sex assault lawsuit filed by Smith and others aims at key reforms also proposed by Congress. But the Defense Department has successfully challenged such lawsuits in the past.

Susan Burke, a Baltimore attorney and lead counsel in the suit, said the Supreme Court has sided with the department and has set a difficult hurdle, which will likely play out over the next six months.

“We are going to try to overcome the likely DOD defense,” Burke said. “If we survive that, we are in very good shape.”

Read more here.


Research Suggests Many Cases of Military Sexual Assault Are More Violent than Reported

Posted by POD Staff, March 23rd, 2015

The Independent Vote Network reports:

While the estimated number of sexual assaults have dropped, the Military Times reports that the number of violent incidents reported were significantly higher than previously thought. This calls into question the veracity of the previous reporting methodology, but confirms that the U.S. Department of Defense is at least making an attempt to change its flawed culture and provide some type of transparency.

According to the Military Times, a recent survey of 170,000 service members found that “20,000 service members said they had experienced at least one incident of unwanted sexual contact in the past year, representing nearly 5 percent of all active-duty women and 1 percent of active-duty men.”

The report continued, “The figures are down from the estimated 26,000 in fiscal 2012, the last year a complete survey was conducted, a drop of more than 23 percent.”

Read more here.


Washington Post: Male on male sexual assault in the military: Overlooked and hard to fix, investigation finds

Posted by POD Staff, March 20th, 2015

The Washington Post reports:

Here’s a scenario: A male U.S. service member is hanging out with others from his unit at a barbecue when he realizes he has had too much alcohol to drink. He’s taken back to his barracks to sleep it off, but wakes up several hours later to be “teabagged” — with another man putting his scrotum on his face.

That notional situation was sketched out by officials with the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, in survey interviews with 122 American male service members across the country. Forty-eight of them — more than a third — said they have heard about something like that happening, the GAO said in investigative findings released Thursday. Thirty-four service members — more than a quarter — interviewed believed the scenario happens occasionally (21), sometimes (nine) or regularly (four), the new GAO report said.

The new report adds to the growing conversation about sexual assault in the military, which senior military officials and the White House have both said repeatedly needs to addressed. But the GAO focused this time on an angle that is less commonly discussed: sexual assaults by men on men.

Read more here.


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Responds to GAO Report, Impact of Sexual Assault on Male Servicemembers

Posted by POD Staff, March 20th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 20, 2015

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS TO GAO REPORT THAT FINDS THE PENTAGON HAS FAILED TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE IMPACT OF SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE MILITARY ON MALE SERVICEMEMBERS 

Washington, D.C. – Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report detailing the systemic failure of the Department of Defense to address the needs of male sexual assault survivors in its policies, prevention programming, performance metrics, or medical and mental health care.

The study found that, while women and men face many of the same challenges, male survivors also face unique barriers; for example, they may be less likely to be believed or may have concerns about masculinity and sexuality. And, while the Department of Defense has known since 2008 that men report sexual assault at statistically lower rates than women, it took no steps to encourage reporting among male survivors until 2014, after Congress ordered the GAO review. The GAO further found that the DoD failed to implement any male-specific programming into its approach, and that male needs have not been studied or addressed.

Read Full Post…


The Forgotten Victims Of Military Sexual Assault: Men

Posted by POD Staff, March 20th, 2015

Former Chief Prosecutor and President of Protect Our Defenders, Colonel Don Christensen USAF (ret) is featured in this article from Think Progress:

Protect Our Defenders, a group that advocates for better military sexual assault policies for victims, said the report revealed how little the DOD had done to address the issue. “The report released by the GAO reveals a stunning refusal of DoD to acknowledge the true scope and impact of military sexual assault and to seriously address the problem. DoD’s own data has shown that men account for nearly half of all victims of sexual assault in the military, and yet no meaningful steps have been taken to understand and confront this reality,” they said. “This is not only willful ignorance towards the problem itself, but is a denial of the humanity and dignity of so many male survivors, who are suffering in silence and without access to the vital services and support they need. The DoD has a duty to all survivors of this horrific crime, and this report shows that they have utterly failed our service members.”

Read more here.


Fort Hood prostitution case shows military’s challenges with sexual assault

Posted by POD Staff, March 13th, 2015

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

The details of a Fort Hood, Texas, prostitution ring – involving US soldiers recruiting cash-strapped female privates who were struggling to keep their young children in diapers – came to light this week with the court-martial of the ring’s coordinator.

Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen could have been facing 33 years for an assortment charges including assault and battery, conspiracy to patronize a prostitute, adultery (which is a prosecutable offense in the military), and dereliction of duty.

While US military prosecutors had asked for five years, McQueen – who will be demoted to the rank of private and stripped of all pay and benefits – received a 24-month sentence in a plea deal. He will be dishonorably discharged.

Read more here.


[AUDIO] Military Sexual Assault Survivors Find Healing In Therapy, Education and Service

Posted by POD Staff, March 13th, 2015

Listen to this piece from WYSO’s, Veterans Voices, part of a public media effort to support veterans.

Ashlie Hawes and I have a lot in common. We’re both veterans, she served in the Marine Corps; I served in the Air Force. We both got out of the military in 2013. We both decided to go to school full time, and we both are suffering from PTSD. It can be anywhere from frustrating to completely unnerving when attending a class that triggers a memory or anxiety attack. Another thing Ashlie and I have in common: we are both Military Sexual Trauma survivors. Ashlie entered the military in 2009 and within a month of arriving at her first duty station, she was assaulted.

“I didn’t really know if I should tell or what I should do,” she says of her assault. “So after a couple years just trying to like pretend it never happened I just broke down. You know, it started with small stuff like not being able to sleep well, and it was just like kind of turning the symptoms into what the problem was when in reality those were just symptoms of the main problem that I wasn’t willing to accept.”

I related with the concept of just dealing with the symptoms and treating those as the problems because I’ve been doing that for a very long time, which I think is making it really difficult now for me to really get down to how all these symptoms are connected back to that original trauma.

Read more and listen to Ashlie’s story here.

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Fort Hood sergeant pleads guilty in pimping scheme that used female soldiers

Posted by POD Staff, March 11th, 2015

The San Antonio Express-News reports:

A Fort Hood soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to a long list of charges stemming from a scheme he hatched to run a prostitution ring using young female soldiers.

Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen, a non-commissioned officer, faced 21 specifications of misconduct stemming from the prostitution scandal. He pleaded guilty to 15 of them, including allegations that he worked with another soldier to bring at least two low-ranking women into his prostitution ring, but denied complicity in six other charges, including sexual assault.

If convicted, McQueen could get get a maximum sentence of 40 years and six months.

Read more here.


Disruptive Women in Healthcare: Destruction of Lives with the Stroke of a Pen

Posted by POD Staff, March 10th, 2015

Victims of sexual assault in the military are often misdiagnosed with personality or adjustment disorders. Protect Our Defenders Founder Nancy Parrish and Board of Directors member Paula Coughlin expose how errant diagnoses prevent veterans and survivors from accessing the proper care and support they need in a post on the Disruptive Women in Health Care blog:

Men and women serving in our military who are raped or sexually assaulted face overwhelming obstacles in order to receive adequate health care.

Instead of assuring victims that their distress about their attacks is a normal response, the Department of Defense (DoD) has a record of mistreating victims by labeling them with errant diagnoses of personality or adjustment disorders. Based on these diagnoses, victims are not only further stigmatized, but often discharged without benefits or health care.

Read more here.


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Calls on Congress to Investigate Military’s Failure to Track Mental Health Discharges

Posted by POD Staff, March 9th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS CALLS ON CONGRESS TO INVESTIGATE MILITARY’S FAILURE TO TRACK MENTAL HEALTH DISCHARGES, PROVIDE ADEQUATE SUPPORT FOR VETERANS AND SERVICEMEMBERS

Washington, D.C. – The Military Times broke a story late last week on the failure of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps to properly track mental health discharges of servicemembers. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Health Care Director, Randall Williamson, the Department of Defense (DoD) does not know whether the military has properly discharged servicemembers with serious combat-related conditions like PTSD or traumatic brain injury. The military also does not know how many servicemembers have been separated for diagnoses that do not merit disability pay, such as personality disorder diagnoses, even among veterans who may have qualified for medical retirement.

According to Williamson, “Absent an effective process for monitoring and reporting compliance, DoD and the military services cannot assure that the military services are complying with DoD requirements.”

Read Full Post…


March Update for Protect Our Defenders Community

Posted by POD Staff, March 8th, 2015

Here are a few special updates this month just for the survivor and friends community.

Webinar on Male Survivors 

  • Brian Lewis, a POD Advisory Board member and President of Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma spoke yesterday during a webinar on male survivors’ issues. The webinar was hosted by the Battered Women’s Justice Project (BWJP). Military culture, response, and retaliation can make male victims less likely to report their assaults, and male survivors face unique issues in their recovery. The webinar discussed the scope of the problem within the U.S. Armed Forces and issues faced by male survivors, discussed aspects of the recovery process for male veterans and health care services available in the VHA. To see the full list of presenters, click here. If you missed it, there will be a recording and we will send out a link when it is available.

Women Social Justice Conference in Georgia

  • Registration is now open for the Second Annual Women Veterans Reunion and Empowerment Conference, March 27-28 in Kennesaw, Georgia, for all veterans, service members, service providers, and family members. Protect Our Defenders is providing a limited number of scholarships to the conference. If you are interested, please email Teresa at wvsjinfo@gmail.com to inquire about scholarship availability.

A Tribute to Melissa

  • Our community was saddened to learn about the recent passing of Melissa Davis, an steadfast advocate in our community. One year ago, Melissa testified before a Senate subcommittee. Her testimony is on C-Span here. Advisory Board member Terri J. Odom shared this message: “When Melissa walked into a room, you instantly felt comfort and calm. She had a contagious smile. Melissa was a loving mother, wife, grandmother, friend and mentor to many across the country. She was a strong, solid advocate in the “good fight” for MST and true reform that would offer justice for victims of military rape and sexual assault. She knew first hand what it meant to be silenced and experience retaliation from reporting a sexual assault in the military. I heard Melissa testify to a panel in D.C. in 2012. I have heard hundreds of MST Stories and several testimonials but never have I heard a survivor speak with such natural passion and poise. Some knew her by her pen name Stormie Dunn. I hope we all remember her courage and bravery and generous knowledge she so willingly shared with us all. Melissa Davis passed away from stomach surgery while resting at her home. Let us all take a moment and remember the outstanding work and wonderful person that Melissa Davis was.”

A message on our community’s losses

Terri adds: “As we talk about loss in our community, I also feel that we should talk about suicide. Suicide isn’t easy to talk about but we all have been affected by it. I keep 1-800-273-8255 (press #1) on speed dialIt is also America’s responsibility to do more to provide mental health care for our veterans. The MST community carries a lot of pain, including feeling hopeless, sad, guilty, or unbearable pain! As a united survivor community, we must try hard to be supportive of each other — learn to agree to disagree with respect and love. We are all brothers and sisters with a common bond and core value. Remember, it takes courage and strength to ask for help. Ask, please! Thanks to Protect Our Defenders, other organizations and the Department of Veterans Affairs, I am typing this. My son sends his gratitude for me being alive today. We never know how someone else is feeling, or what they maybe going through. Be kind and we can always reach out to each other. Thank you all. With love and peace, Terri J. Odom.”

 

Victory for MST Survivor who was Denied Benefits

  • Congratulations to veteran and survivor Heath Philips, who after over 20 years of struggling, has finally won VA benefits. With the support of POD and Sen. Gillibrand, who pursued the case for her constituent, a court recently ruled that Heath is entitled to both VA health care and disability benefits. We are thrilled for Heath. But it is a national disgrace that veterans continue to be denied benefits. Heath wrote us: “I want to thank POD and their staff. They connected me with several people who helped. Sen. Gillibrand was a huge factor in not only being dedicated in helping military sexual assault survivors, but for taking the time to personally help me with my fight with the VA. There are so many people who have had my back through thick and thin…When I felt broken and wanted to give in they pulled me up…because of their help I continued to fight. Because of your support I didn’t give in and finally won and now am 100% service connected.”

We will continue to work directly with veterans like Heath through our Pro Bono Network and to advocate for reforms that support veterans on the Hill.


February News Roundup

Posted by POD Staff, March 8th, 2015

Here’s Protect Our Defenders’ monthly news roundup covering current issues for veterans and active duty service members who are survivors of sexual assault.

Selective Censorship Undermines Military

  • Maribel Jarzabek, a former Air Force Special Victim Counsel (SVC), faced retaliation late last year after speaking out in support of reform. This month she took the Air Force to task for punishing servicemembers who speak out against the DoD party-line, arguing, “All service members should be able to share their unique perspective, not just those with which the military brass agree” in a USA TODAY Editorial.
  • The Air Force’s selective censorship “tears away at unit cohesion and military readiness,” says a column in the Air Force Times.

Defense Secretary Responds to Military Sexual Assault

  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand questioned Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at his confirmation hearing about the mishandling of sexual assaults in the military. Carter said he was grateful to Gillibrand for keeping the heat on the issue and acknowledged that retaliation against victims is “widespread” in a video from the Washington Post.

Survey of the Academies Show Hostile Climates

  • According to a recently released DoD survey, 1 in 12 students experienced unwanted sexual contact during 2014, and of students who reported the crime, 40% faced retaliation. In addition, half of all female students faced sexual harassment.  POD was the go-to source for analysis about the annual survey.
  • “Protect our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the military, said the latest report shows persistent problems despite efforts to solve them… and hurt the reputation of our academies,” reported the Baltimore Sun.

Bipartisan Legislation to Ensure Military Sex Offenders are Registered

  • Congresswoman Jackie Speier introduced the Military Track, Register and Alert Communities (TRAC) Act. The bill would close the loophole that allows convicted sex offenders in the military to return to civilian life without registering as a sex offender. At a press conference in D.C., I joined Congresswoman Speier and Congressman Mike Coffman to introduce the bill, as reported in Stars and Stripes.
  • Speier is optimistic about the bill moving forward, said CBS.

Veteran Thrives Through Opera Music

  • “I remember the day I asked for help,” says Army veteran Kela Thomas. Thomas was raped while serving in the military and is now a professional opera singer. “Right now it’s about living, it’s about growing, it’s about singing,” Thomas says in this First Coast News video.

Victory for MST Survivor Who was Denied Benefits

  • Congratulations to veteran and survivor Heath Philips, who after over 20 years of struggling, has finally won VA benefits. With the support of POD and Sen. Gillibrand, who pursued the case for her constituent, a court recently ruled that Heath is entitled to both VA health care and disability benefits. We are thrilled for Heath. But it is a national disgrace that veterans continue to be denied benefits.  Heath wrote us: ”I want to thank POD and their staff. They connected me with several people who helped. Sen. Gillibrand was a huge factor in not only being dedicated in helping military sexual assault survivors, but for taking the time to personally help me with my fight with the VA. There are many people who have had my back through thick and thin — Terri Odom and several more. When I felt broken and wanted to give in they pulled me up…because of your support, I continued to fight and finally won, and I now am 100% service connected.”

 

We will continue to work directly with veterans like Heath through our Pro Bono Network and to advocate for reforms that support veterans on the Hill.

Protect Our Defender’s 2014 Annual Report

  • Our Annual Report is now available online. It was a momentous year for POD, thanks to the determination of our growing community. We encourage you to take a look back through the year here.

Ms. Magazine: Kirsten Gillibrand: Taking On Military Sexual Assault, One Bill at a Time

Posted by POD Staff, March 4th, 2015

Ms. Magazine reports:

In the wake of recent high-profile cases of the mishandling of military sexual assaults, widespread public outcry over sexual violence against women in the media, and rampant sexual assault at the fore of discussion on college campuses, Gillibrand’s bill couldn’t be more timely—or necessary.

Despite President Obama’s omission of sexual assault as a talking point from this year’s State of the Union address, Senator Gillibrand maintained her stance on supporting survivors of sexual assault, whether on a university campus or otherwise. She brought anti-rape activist and performance artist Emma Sulkowicz as her guest to the speech, calling her “a woman of great courage who got no justice,” following Columbia University’s decision to not expel her accused rapist last year.

As part of a bipartisan group of senators that recently introduced a bill “meant to hold colleges more accountable in their handling of sexual assaults on campus,” Senator Gillibrand is currently on a tour of several universities in New York that aims to host round table discussions with students, officials, law enforcement, advocates and survivors.

Read more here.


Mother Jones: Reporting Sexual Abuse in the Military Is “Inherently Unfair.” Here’s Why.

Posted by POD Staff, March 3rd, 2015

Protect Our Defenders President Col Don Christensen and Board of Directors Member Paula Coughlin are featured in this piece from Mother Jones:

“In the military, your rapists’ boss decides whether or not a sexual-assault allegation is investigated,” Christensen says. “This puts commanders in an impossible position.”

One reason commanders might brush off reports of assault or harassment is that they don’t want the black mark of a crime tainting their records, and there are few consequences for not reporting the crime. “Military justice implies it’s a requirement” to report rape, says Paula Coughlin, but “it isn’t enforced.” When Christensen was a prosecutor, commanders would constantly reschedule meetings and ignore phone calls to keep him from speaking with witnesses. In the past, including during the Lackland scandal, military officers who did not report instances of sexual assault were suspended or officially reprimanded, but rarely seriously charged.

Read more here.


Local veteran overcomes trauma through opera music

Posted by POD Staff, February 24th, 2015

Watch this video about Kela Holmes, who walked away from her dream of becoming an opera singer to join the Army:

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But Holmes says by 1996 while at her first duty station in Ohio, she questioned her decision to enlist. Holmes says she was violated by a veteran she was dating who had just returned home from Desert Storm.

“I did not know that he had some psychiatric issues,” said Holmes. “One drill weekend I was raped and beaten by a fellow soldier.”

She told her superiors and says her attacker was arrested. Afraid, Holmes did not testify against him, and the man whose actions would consume her life for years was not imprisoned.

Read more here.


House bill would require DOD to publish names of military sex offenders

Posted by POD Staff, February 13th, 2015

Former Chief Prosecutor and President of Protect Our Defenders, Colonel Don Christensen USAF (ret) is featured in this Scripps News investigation:

Colonel (Ret.) Don Christensen, a former military sex crimes prosecutor who is now president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, said the legislation is long overdue.

“Inexplicably, the United States military lacks the authority to require service members who have been convicted of rape or sexual assault to register as sex offenders,” he said. Christensen said the legislation would “make our communities safer and our military stronger.”

Read more here.


Statement of Protect Our Defenders President, Col. Don Christensen (ret.) on the Introduction of the Military TRAC Act

Posted by POD Staff, February 12th, 2015

February 12, 2015

Statement of Protect Our Defenders President, Col. Don Christensen (ret.) on the Introduction of the Military TRAC Act

I want to thank Congresswoman Speier and Congressman Coffman for their leadership on this issue and for their dedication to keeping Americans safe. Right now, the military is failing our servicemembers and our communities. The current system is broken, and it allows convicted predators to escape detection, to disappear into our neighborhoods and operate in our societies without suspicion.

As recent accounts have shown, the harm and devastation of military sexual assault is not isolated to our servicemembers, but impacts all Americans. This is a national security issue, and has the potential to impact the life of every citizen.

Currently, does not track convicted offenders serving in their ranks, and lacks jurisdiction to ensure that military offenders register with civilian authorities upon their release from confinement.

Read Full Post…


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Applauds Bipartisan Legislation To Protect Americans from Convicted Sex Offenders

Posted by POD Staff, February 12th, 2015

Download as a PDF document

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 12, 2015

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS APPLAUDS CONGRESSWOMAN JACKIE SPEIER FOR PROTECTING THE AMERICAN PUBLIC FROM THOSE CONVICTED OF RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT WHILE SERVING IN THE MILITARY

Washington DC – Today at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced the Military Track, Register and Alert Communities Act of 2015 (Military TRAC Act) with Congressman Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Protect Our Defenders President Colonel Don Christensen. This legislation would close a loophole that allows those convicted of rape and sexual assault in the military to return to civilian life without having to register as a sex offender. Currently, it is up to them to self-register. Rep. Speier’s bill would require soldiers convicted of sex crimes to be fingerprinted, have their DNA taken and their name added to the national sex offender registry before being released from military prison.

Read Full Post…


Stars and Stripes: House bill calls for DOD to publish names of military sex offenders

Posted by POD Staff, February 12th, 2015

Former Chief Prosecutor and President of Protect Our Defenders, Colonel Don Christensen USAF (ret) is featured in this Stars and Stripes article:

Don Christensen, a retired Air Force prosecutor and president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, also came out in support of the legislation, saying it would help solve a much bigger problem with reducing and prosecuting sexual assault in the ranks.

“That makes this all the more absurd, that when we do bring these criminals to justice, they are essentially released into the civilian world and giving a clean slate,” he said.

Read more here.


Protect Our Defenders Releases Analysis of DoD Service Academy Survey

Posted by POD Staff, February 11th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

*** STATEMENT ***

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RELEASES ANALYSIS OF DOD SERVICE ACADEMY SURVEY, WHICH FINDS THAT NEARLY HALF THE STUDENTS WHO REPORTED UNWANTED SEXUAL CONTACT WERE RETALIATED AGAINST AND OVER 80% CHOSE NOT TO REPORT THE CRIME 

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Pentagon released their annual survey on unwanted sexual contact (USC) and sexual harassment at military service academies, which highlights the continued need for fundamental reform and a conflict-free legal system. Protect Our Defenders has analyzed the report and has released analysis of the survey below.

Today, Protect Our Defenders President, Don Christensen, Colonel (ret.) USAF released the following statement:

“While The Pentagon wants to tout every report as a victory, they ignore troubling numbers – 85 percent of sexual assault victims don’t have confidence to come forward. It should not be surprising when 40 percent of the victims that do come forward are retaliated against. And students live in an environment in which 50 percent of the women cadets and midshipmen are victims of sexual harassment. This crisis won’t end until we have a conflict free, professional military legal system. Read Full Post…


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Responds to Service Academy Survey

Posted by POD Staff, February 11th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS TO SERVICE ACADEMY SURVEY, WHICH FINDS THAT NEARLY HALF THE STUDENTS WHO REPORTED UNWANTED SEXUAL CONTACT WERE RETALIATED AGAINST 

Washington, D.C. – Today, the Pentagon released their annual survey on unwanted sexual contact (USC) and sexual harassment at military service academies, which highlights the continued need for fundamental reform and a conflict-free legal system.

The survey found that:

  • 1 in 12 female students at the academies experienced USC in 2014—twice the rate of the active duty population overall, and a rate that has not improved from 2008.
  • Over 80% of female students who experienced USC chose not to report the assault.
  • Of those who did report, more than 40% say they experienced retaliation.
  • About 50% of female students experienced sexual harassment in 2014.
  • Nearly half the students in the survey who said they experienced unwanted sexual contact faced retaliation.

Read Full Post…


One in 10 female AFA cadets victims of unwanted sexual contact

Posted by POD Staff, February 11th, 2015

Former Chief Prosecutor and President of Protect Our Defenders, Colonel Don Christensen USAF (ret) is featured in this Scripps News investigation:

Protect Our Defenders, a Washington-based organization that supports military victims of sexual assault, cited the retaliation number in criticism of the Pentagon report.

“While The Pentagon wants to tout every report as a victory, they ignore troubling numbers,” the group’s president, retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen said.

Christensen, a former Air Force prosecutor, noted that the Air Force Academy’s sexual assault numbers are similar to those reported in the 2003 scandal.

“It tells me that things haven’t changed since we had a crisis in 2003,” he said.

The group says the rate of unwanted sexual contact suffered by academy women is double the rate elsewhere in the military.

Read more here.


Stars and Stripes: Military lawyers lose the ‘good soldier’ defense

Posted by POD Staff, February 9th, 2015

Protect Our Defenders President Col. Don Christensen is featured in this article from Stars and Stripes:

“It allowed people to put their thumb on the scale,” said Don Christensen, formerly the Air Force’s top prosecutor and now president of the victim-advocacy group Protect Our Defenders. That was particularly true when commanders or high-ranking officers vouched for a defendant’s character, Christensen said.

“It can have a potentially huge impact,” he said, “even though it’s factually meaningless. It’s like a priest accused of sexual misconduct, or a teacher. How many times have they been teacher of the year? People who commit sexual offenses are often model citizens.”

But members of a military jury are likely to give deference to the testimony or statement of a three-star general or a defendant’s commander, he said. “They’re going to assume that the three-star knows more about the case than they do. They think, ‘He’s looked at the evidence; he wouldn’t be saying that if the defendant were guilty.”’

Read more here.


USA Today op-ed: Stop Air Force lockdown of public discussion

Posted by POD Staff, February 9th, 2015

In a USA Today op-ed, Maribel Jarzabek, a former military lawyer takes commanders to task for trying trying to keep servicmembers from speaking with members of Congress, and launching criminal investigations against those who have spoken out in support of victims of rape and sexual assault in the military:

When commanders pick and choose which “personal views” are allowed, they undermine good order and discipline, military readiness and threaten unit cohesion. It is critical that our brave men and women in uniform are able to trust their commanders. But that trust flies out the window when military leaders accuse airmen of treason for speaking with members of Congress, and criminal investigations are launched against military lawyers speaking up for sexual assault victims. All service members should be able to share their unique perspective, not just those with which the military brass agree. Americans deserve to hear the truth.

Read more here.


Air Force launches a big change in basic training

Posted by POD Staff, February 9th, 2015

Protect Our Defenders President Col. Don Christensen (ret.) is featured in this article from the San Antonio Express-News:

Retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, said he hoped the program would help but said nothing would change until the military justice system is fundamentally altered — removing commanders from the legal process.

“Training programs are important, but they will not fix an inherently unfair system. In the military, your rapist’s boss decides whether or not a sexual assault allegation is investigated,” he said. “This puts commanders in an impossible position and is why more than 85 percent of troops continue not to openly report the crime.”

Neither the debate over how to fix such problems nor the idea of instilling core values into airmen are new. Indoctrination into military culture always has been a part of early training, which aims to recast free-thinking civilians into troops prepared to follow orders and execute them. Capstone will offer a more detailed curriculum than the airman’s school, with top Air Force leaders saying it ought to better better prepare young airmen for what is ahead.

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