Protect Our Defenders News Blog

Protect Our Defenders welcomes blog posts on our news page on timely topics related to military sexual assault. If you have an idea for a post, please email info@protectourdefenders.com.

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PBS: How military sex offenders fly under the radar after returning to civilian life

Posted by POD Staff, January 15th, 2015

There are hundreds of service members who have been convicted of sex offenses but never appear on any public registry once they leave the military, disappearing into neighborhoods across the country and, in some cases, preying on new victims. Special correspondent Mark Greenblatt of the Scripps News Service reports.

For a complete transcript, head over to the PBS website.


STL Post Dispatch: How a sexual predator operated under the radar at Ft. Leonard Wood

Posted by POD Staff, January 15th, 2015

The St Louis Post Dispatch writes:

A government investigation into how an Army drill sergeant was able to prey on several female trainees finds numerous lapses in reporting and protocol up and down the chain of command.

In September, military police Staff Sgt. Angel Sanchez, 30, was found guilty on a long list of egregious claims against him, such as forcing sexual favors from young trainees.

Even before his court martial, Sanchez admitted to having sex with three subordinates. He was then found guilty of incidents involving five more women, in what one prosecutor called an effort to fulfill “his own pornographic fantasy.”

Sanchez operated under the radar on post here in south-central Missouri during an era when sex harassment prevention has been hammered home with the repetition of a training drill. There are frequent briefings. A banner on a chow hall wall says: “Speak up! Silence is deafening.”

Read the full article at the Post Dispatch’s website.


Washington Post: A new voice for sexual assault victims in the military

Posted by POD Staff, January 10th, 2015

The Washington Post reports:

The job of special victims’ counsel began as a pilot program in the Air Force in January 2013; it was replicated military-wide in the 2014 defense authorization bill.

The cynical way to understand the program is as part of the military’s desperate, and so far successful, bid to avoid having sexual assault cases transferred outside the ordinary chain of command, with the ultimate decision about prosecution and punishment entrusted to a commander who may have competing concerns beyond dispensing impartial justice.

The more sympathetic way to view the program is as an important, humanitarian adjunct to a military justice system that, much like its civilian counterpart, does not necessarily put victims’ interests foremost.

Read the full report.


Washington Post: Air Force captain dissents from military sex assault policy, and commanders take notice

Posted by POD Staff, January 6th, 2015

The Washington Post reports:

Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor in the Air Force, now serves as president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, which backs Gillibrand’s bill. He said the criminal investigation into Jarzabek would resonate within Air Force legal circles.

“It’s clear that if you support the current system and you do so publicly, then that’s something that’s considered praiseworthy and can get you promoted,” he said. “But if you oppose it and say so, you’ll get criminally prosecuted.”


Stars & Stripes: Gillibrand determined to force change in military justice system, but it’s an uphill battle

Posted by POD Staff, January 5th, 2015

Stars & Stripes reports:

The debate over a commander’s role in the military justice system isn’t over.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s legislative efforts to remove prosecutorial authority from commanders in most serious crimes failed last year, but the Democrat from New York will reintroduce her bill during the new session of Congress, which begins today.

And while Gillibrand is determined to force change, she will face even more hurdles pushing the bill forward as a member of the minority party.

Read the full article at Stars & Stripes’ website.


Air Force Times: Why the AF’s chief prosecutor left to fight for sex assault victims

Posted by POD Staff, January 5th, 2015

The AF Times reports on why Don Christensen, the Air Force’s top prosecutor, left the military to join Protect Our Defenders as our new president:

Don Christensen felt like a man unburdened.

On a cold day in early December, the former Air Force chief prosecutor sat at a table inside the tiny Washington office of the victims advocacy group of which he had recently been named president.

He’d traded his dress blues for a charcoal suit, a clean-shaven face for a closely cropped beard. Gone, too, were Christensen’s measured remarks on the case that would define his 23-year career as a judge advocate general and put him at odds with the institution to which he’d devoted half his life.

For more than a year, in the rare moments he spoke publicly about his successful November 2012 prosecution of a lieutenant colonel on sexual assault charges — and a three-star general’s reversal of the conviction less than four months later — Christensen’s words came with a disclaimer. He was speaking for himself, he’d say, and not the Air Force.


Oakland Tribune editorial: Military justice on assault needs major overhaul

Posted by POD Staff, January 5th, 2015

The Oakland Tribune opines:

The U.S. military justice system has been rightly pilloried in recent years for its horrendous record in handling sexual-assault cases. In the wake of those criticisms some strides finally have been made toward improving the system for assault victims, but events this week clearly show much more needs to be done.

The U.S. Air Force decided to admonish, albeit lightly, one of the military lawyers it had assigned as part of a new program to represent victims of sexual assault. The program is one of those new reforms that the Defense Department showcases as a shining success, proof that it is a new day and that such atrocities will not be tolerated.

Capt. Maribel Jarzabek was in the last month of her five-year service to the Air Force when she wrote a post on the Facebook page of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., encouraging the senator to continue her efforts to push specific reforms for the system through Congress.

In the Dec. 2 post Jarzabek also wrote, “Changes are needed, and it’s time that the public knew about the military’s true dirty little secrets!”

A while later Jarzabek was informed via email from a high-ranking officer that she was under criminal investigation. Yes, criminal investigation for advocating “a partisan political cause” and expressing opinions that could undermine public confidence in the Air Force.

Read the full editorial on their website.


Air Force Times: “In trouble for speaking out on sex assault policy”

Posted by POD Staff, January 5th, 2015

The Air Force Times reports:

On her final day as an Air Force lawyer, Capt. Maribel Jarzabek figured she could finally speak out.

It was Dec. 2, three weeks before she officially separated from the service. It was also the same day a group of senators gathered on Capitol Hill to renew their call for a military justice system that would put lawyers instead of commanders in charge of serious crimes like rape and sexual assault.

Top brass across the service branches opposed such a fundamental change, charging it would undermine their ability to maintain good order and discipline.

But Jarzabek supported the senators, a bipartisan bunch led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. As a specially appointed Air Force attorney representing victims of sexual assault, Jarzabek felt well-qualified to give her opinion.

So she took to Gillibrand’s Facebook page, where she introduced herself as an Air Force special victims counsel and listed several experiences that she believed illustrated why commanders shouldn’t be involved in matters of justice.


Stars & Stripes: Military Sexual Assault Year in Review

Posted by POD Staff, December 30th, 2014

Stars & Stripes is recapping 2014′s key developments in military sexual assault news. Among the year’s notable events was Don Christensen joining Protect Our Defenders:

The Air Force’s chief prosecutor, who won the conviction against [Col] Wilkerson, also retired. Col. Don Christensen, considered the service’s best litigator, said Air Force officials had retaliated against him for failing to back Franklin’s decision, just as he said he’d seen commanders retaliate against victims for reporting their assaults. Christensen joined the victim-advocacy group Protect Our Defenders as president.


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders President Speaks at Panel on Sexual Assault in the Military

Posted by POD Staff, December 12th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 12, 2014

*** STATEMENT ***

 PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS PRESIDENT SPEAKS AT PANEL ON SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE MILITARY

Washington DC – Today, Protect Our Defenders President, Don Christensen, Colonel (ret.) USAF spoke at a public meeting of the Judicial Proceedings Panel on Sexual Assault in the Military, and the Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) programs established by each branch of the Armed Forces.

The meeting was held one day after a vote on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) military sexual assault bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) was blocked. The legislation, which would create an independent and impartial military justice system for service members, was denied a vote by a group of Senators, including Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Below are Colonel Christensen’s remarks from today’s panel:

“Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to speak about the SVC program.  Let me start by saying that I am a big supporter of the program, and Protect Our Defenders has been a champion of the program from its inception. Protect Our Defenders has filed amicus briefs in several important appellate cases involving victims’ rights including LRM v. Kastenberg. Thanks to the efforts of Congress, military survivors of sexual assault now have the right to a confidential advisor to help guide them through a complex and adversarial process.

“The SVC program has given our military survivors a voice where they had none. However, this does not mean the program is without challenges or in need of improvement. Nor will it impact the degradation of mission readiness caused by the failures to structurally reform the broken military justice system.

Read Full Post…


Victims of Zero Tolerance: Survivors Call on President Obama to Support Reforming the Broken Military Justice System

Posted by POD Staff, December 12th, 2014

Twelve survivors of sexual abuse in the military have bravely come forward to launch a national campaign asking President Obama to declare that after 20 years of “zero tolerance,” a year filled with news of retaliation against victims, and survey estimates showing no progress, it’s time to change the military justice system.

The photographs of the survivors are gripping and the stories are harrowing, yet they demonstrate incredible resiliency.

View the new photograph series and campaign here.

Read Full Post…


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Responds After Vote on Military Justice Improvement Act Blocked By Senate

Posted by POD Staff, December 11th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS AFTER VOTE ON MILITARY JUSTICE IMPROVEMENT ACT BLOCKED BY SENATE

Washington DC – Today, a vote on Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) military sexual assault bill, the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) was blocked. The legislation, which would create an independent and impartial military justice system for service members, was denied a vote by a group of Senators, including Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

Protect Our Defenders Founder Nancy Parrish released the following statement:

“The ongoing sexual assault epidemic in our armed forces is undermining our war fighting ability. Today, a few Senators decided to stand against the American public, a bi-partisan majority of the senate, and with military brass and the status quo. Justice was delayed, but it won’t be denied. Our service members deserve a justice system equal to the system afforded the civilians they protect.

Read Full Post…


PRESS RELEASE: Protect Our Defenders Launches National Campaign Calling on President Obama to Stand with Victims of Sexual Assault and Fix the Broken Military Justice System

Posted by POD Staff, December 10th, 2014

*** PRESS RELEASE *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS LAUNCHES NATIONAL CAMPAIGN CALLING ON PRESIDENT OBAMA TO STAND WITH VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND FIX THE BROKEN MILITARY JUSTICE SYSTEM 

More Survivors Come Forward Calling on Commander-in-Chief to Support Fundamental Reform, Ads Appearing in the New York Times, Washington Post and Politico, Asking Americans to Stand With Them

Washington DC – Today, Protect Our Defenders launched a national campaign to educate lawmakers and the public on the military justice system’s structural failings to protect victims of rape and sexual assault. As part of the campaign, 12 survivors of military sexual abuse have come forward publicly to ask President Obama to declare that after 20 years of “zero tolerance,” a year filled with news of retaliation against victims, and a new survey showing no progress over the past eight years, it’s time to change the military justice system.

Protect Our Defenders sent a photographer across the country this year to meet with survivors and capture stories of their experiences of sexual assault, harassment and retaliation while serving our country. By sharing such moving images and detailing the accounts of their own personal experiences, these brave veterans put forth a searing indictment of the epidemic of military sexual assault. Their photos and stories are appearing in ads in the New York Times, Washington Post and Politico as part of this campaign – encouraging Americans to join with them in asking the President to fix the broken system.

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Coverage Round-Up: New Pentagon Report with new figures on sexual assault in the military

Posted by POD Staff, December 5th, 2014

The Pentagon released new figures on sexual assault in the military, which highlights the continued need for fundamental reform, transparency, and accountability. The numbers, which were taken from a survey conducted by the RAND Corporation shows that the epidemic of sexual assault continues. Here is a round-up of coverage.

USA Today Editorial: More of the same on military sexual assault: Our view

The Nation: Can the Military Fix Its Sexual-Assault Problem on Its Own?

San Antonio Express-News: Military sexual assault reports increase, and many victims face retaliation
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Coverage Round-Up: Senator Gillibrand Press Conference with Protect Our Defender

Posted by POD Staff, December 5th, 2014

Protect Our Defenders President and former Air Force Chief Prosecutor Colonel Don Christensen (Ret.), joined Senator Gillibrand and others in support of the Military Justice Improvement Act. Col Christensen recently left the Air Force after 23 years to become President of Protect Our Defenders. Having served 21 years as an U.S. Air Force JAG, four as the Chief Prosecutor—the longest tenure for anyone in that position—as well as a defense attorney and a judge in a number of high profile cases, Col Christensen brings a unique perspective to the ongoing sexual assault crisis in the military, and has witnessed first hand the failures of the military justice system. Here is a round-up of coverage from the past week.

CNN: Senators renew push to change military’s handling of rape

USA Today: Gillibrand makes new push on military sex assault bill

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STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Releases Analysis of New Survey That Shows Epidemic of Rape and Sexual Assault in the Military Continues

Posted by POD Staff, December 4th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 4, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RELEASES ANALYSIS OF NEW SURVEY THAT SHOWS EPIDEMIC OF RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE MILITARY CONTINUES

Washington DC – Today, the Pentagon released new figures on sexual assault in the military, which highlights the continued need for fundamental reform, transparency, and accountability. The numbers, which were taken from a highly criticized survey conducted by the RAND Corporation shows that the epidemic of sexual assault continues.

Protect Our Defenders has analyzed the new survey and released its findings in a report below. Despite the Pentagon’s conclusions, their Report to the President provides no evidence that the military justice system’s ability to handle sexual assault cases has improved. On the contrary, these numbers continue to paint a chilling picture of a system consistently incapable of handling sexual assault.

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

“The Pentagon has misled President Obama and the American public with cherry picked information from its new sexual assault survey. When reports of sexual assault go up, the military congratulate themselves, and when they go down, they congratulate themselves. The facts that have not changed are that the overwhelming majority of victims do not have enough confidence to report their assault at all, and that for those very few who do come forward, sixty two percent of victims continue to state they were retaliated against. Further, of the 5,983 reports made last year, just 359 of those resulted in a conviction, and just 175 of those in a conviction for a registerable sex offense. It is no mystery why reporting is, and has always been so low. Would you report an attack if you knew that the likely outcome would be to see your attacker walk free, or at worst receive a slap on the wrist, while you are subjected to retribution from fellow troops or even your commanders?

Read Full Post…


Analysis From Protect Our Defenders: Evidence Shows That the Military Justice System Remains Broken

Posted by POD Staff, December 4th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 4, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

EVIDENCE SHOWS THAT THE MILITARY JUSTICE SYSTEM REMAINS BROKEN

Despite the Pentagon’s conclusions, the Report to the President provides no evidence that the military justice system’s ability to handle sexual assault cases has improved. On the contrary, these numbers continue to paint a chilling picture of a system consistently incapable of handling sexual assault.

The prosecution rate has decreased. In 2014, just 910 cases were preferred, compared to 5983 total reports. The military considers this to be a prosecution rate of 38% (out of cases where the military could take action), and by its own acknowledgment, this rate has not improved from 39% in 2013.

Out of 5,983 reports, only 175 resulted in a conviction for a registrable sexual offense.

Although overall reports are up, the proportion of victims willing to come forward and publicly report an assault has actually gone down. In 2011, 76% of reports made by service members were unrestricted and therefore actionable; in 2014, the percentage of unrestricted reports made by service members fell to 68%

Further, there is no evidence to conclude that the increase in reports is due to a growing confidence in the system. It is just as likely that increased media attention, which led to a similar spike in sexual assault reporting in Israel several years ago, caused this increase in reports. While victims might feel emboldened to report when they know the world is watching, this cannot be sustained as Congress and the media turn their attention elsewhere.

84% of military victims still do not have enough confidence in the system to publicly report their sexual assault.

Retaliation persists at startling rates. In 2012, 62% of respondents faced retaliation for reporting. In 2014, that number remains unchanged, even as retaliation (including social retaliation) is now considered a crime. Disturbingly, the majority of survivors who were retaliated against experienced some form of reprisal from their commanders (including professional, adverse administrative action, or punishment for reporting).

Read Full Post…


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Responds to New Survey that Shows Epidemic of Rape and Sexual Assault in the Military Continues

Posted by POD Staff, December 3rd, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 4, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS TO NEW SURVEY THAT SHOWS EPIDEMIC OF RAPE AND SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE MILITARY CONTINUES

Washington DC – Today, the Pentagon released new figures on sexual assault in the military, which highlights the continued need for fundamental reform, transparency, and accountability. The numbers, which were taken from a highly criticized survey conducted by the RAND Corporation shows that the epidemic of sexual assault continues.

Last year, President Obama told victims he has their back and will support them. Since issuing that statement, the American public has been inundated by a continuing onslaught of military sexual assault scandals, from this past weekend’s cover story in the New York Times Magazine to an Associated Press investigation this past February that exposed rapists receiving no punishment and commanders failing to prosecute sexual assault cases at U.S. Military bases in Japan, up to and including recent scandals at Fort Leonard Wood where trainees were told their entire company would not graduate if any more sexual assaults were reported, and the Air Force Academy, where a whistleblower was retaliated against after contributing to the conviction of sexual assaults. Protect Our Defenders calls on President Obama to make good on his commitment to victims and support an independent and impartial military justice system.

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Remarks from Protect Our Defenders President Don Christensen at Military Justice Improvement Act Press Conference with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Posted by POD Staff, December 2nd, 2014

Today Protect Our Defenders President and former Air Force Chief Prosecutor Colonel Don Christensen (Ret.), joined Senator Gillibrand and others in support of the Military Justice Improvement Act. Col Christensen recently left the Air Force after 23 years to become President of Protect Our Defenders (POD). Having served 21 years as an U.S. Air Force JAG, four as the Chief Prosecutor—the longest tenure for anyone in that position—as well as a defense attorney and a judge in a number of high profile cases, Col Christensen brings a unique perspective to the ongoing sexual assault crisis in the military, and has witnessed first hand the failures of the military justice system.

Good morning.  I am Don Christensen, and until last July I served as the Chief Prosecutor for the Air Force.  I served in that position for four years both prosecuting cases and supervising 18 senior prosecutors tasked with trying the Air Force’s most serious crimes across the world.  Frequently those crimes involved sexual assaults committed by members of the Air Force.  In September I retired after 23 years as a JAG having spent my entire career devoted to military justice.  I have had the opportunity see how sexual assault is handled in the military as a defense counsel, a prosecutor and as a military judge.

I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for having me here. I look forward to working with you Senator, and with members on both sides of the aisle who are advocating to provide an impartial and professional justice system for our service men and women, who risk their lives to protect our freedoms and American values.

Though the voices of those within the military who support this change aren’t often heard, I can assure you they exist.

It is vital to align military justice process with American civilian justice.

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor to Join Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for Press Conference, Calls on the President and Congress to Support Legislation to Fix Broken Military “Justice” System

Posted by POD Staff, December 1st, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 1, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** MEDIA ADVISORY *** 

FORMER AIR FORCE CHIEF PROSECUTOR TO JOIN SENATOR KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND FOR PRESS CONFERENCE, CALLS ON THE PRESIDENT AND CONGRESS TO SUPPORT LEGISLATION TO FIX BROKEN MILITARY “JUSTICE” SYSTEM

Senator Gillibrand Will Be Joined By Protect Our Defenders New President and Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor Colonel Don Christensen (Ret.) For First Public Remarks; Calls for Fundamental Reform; Asks President Obama To Take A Stand And Declare His Support For Military Justice Reform 

Washington DC – On Tuesday, December 2, at 10:00 AM E.T., U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) will hold a press conference to discuss her bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) with Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Rand Paul (R-KY). The legislation would remove the decision to prosecute major felonies, including rape and sexual assault, from the conflicted and often-biased chain of command, and put it in the hands of professionally trained, independent prosecutors. Senator Gillibrand is leading a bipartisan coalition of Senators to reintroduce and pass MJIA as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is expected to be voted on in December.

At the event, former Air Force Chief Prosecutor Colonel Don Christensen (Ret.), will join Senator Gillibrand and others in support of MJIA. This will be Col Christensen’s first media appearance since announcing in a New York Times Magazine cover story that he has left the Air Force after 23 years to become President of Protect Our Defenders (POD). Having served 21 years as an U.S. Air Force JAG, four as the Chief Prosecutor—the longest tenure for anyone in that position—as well as a defense attorney and a judge in a number of high profile cases, Col Christensen brings a unique perspective to the ongoing sexual assault crisis in the military, and has witnessed first hand the failures of the military justice system.

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[VIDEO] Former chief Air Force prosecutor ‘outraged’ by military’s handling of sexual-assault cases

Posted by POD Staff, December 1st, 2014

In an interview with Yahoo News, Protect Our Defenders President Don Christensen discussed the military’s failure to fix the broken justice system and end the epidemic of sexual assault. Don also talks about his decision to leave the United States Air Force, breaking a military tradition that has been a part of his family for over 150 years.

Untitled

“‘One of the dirty little secrets of military justice is what happens in that courtroom,’ Christensen said, ‘when you have the prosecution on one side of the courtroom and the defense on the other side, and a victim is sitting on the witness stand telling the jury what happened, and she looks out over that courtroom, she looks behind her rapist and she’s going to see her commander sitting behind her rapist. She’s going to see her first sergeant sitting behind her rapist. She’s going to see her squadron leader sitting behind her rapist. That’s what we have to overcome.’

“That’s what happened in one recent case at Ellsworth Air Force Base, he said, in which a female pilot, a major, accused a captain in her squadron of sexually assaulting her.

“At the trial — prosecuted by Christensen’s office — ‘the commander testified for the accused. Her fellow fliers testified for the accused.’ The captain was still convicted, but as he was awaiting sentence in the courtroom, with the major present, Christensen said, the squadron commander ‘gives the guy who sexually assaulted her a hug.’ The clear message to other victims, he said, is ‘don’t report. Don’t report.’”

Read more here.


Top prosecutor leaves Air Force to reform military justice system

Posted by POD Staff, November 26th, 2014

Retired Colonel Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former chief prosecutor and newly announced president of Protect Our Defenders is featured in this article from Stars and Stripes:

One of the military’s most highly regarded prosecutors is leaving the justice system he’s served for more than two decades to work for a group devoted to reforming it.

Col. Don Christensen, formerly the Air Force’s chief prosecutor, is retiring from the service in December and will become the president of Protect Our Defenders, an influential nonprofit that advocates for and supports military sexual assault victims and lobbies for military justice reform.

Changes are overdue to a system Christensen says enables perpetrators and punishes victims.

“I’ve seen how people in units rally around the accused,” he said. “These are the future convening authorities.

“We need to professionalize the justice system. Make it similar to what the rest of the world does.”

Read more here.


AF chief prosecutor leaves service for victims advocacy group

Posted by POD Staff, November 26th, 2014

Retired Colonel Don Christensen, the Air Force’s former chief prosecutor and newly announced president of Protect Our Defenders is featured in this Air Force Times story:

“Your rapists’ boss should not decide whether to investigate or prosecute a sexual assault allegation or pick the jury,” Christensen said in his statement. “The decision to prosecute is a legal decision that must be entrusted to professional, legally trained prosecutors, the jury should be randomly selected, not hand picked by the accused’s commander. The military justice system must be changed. I am leaving the institution I love and joining Protect Our Defenders in order to fix this broken system.”

The former prosecutor will serve as the nonprofit’s president.

In an interview with Air Force Times last April, Christensen described sitting next to a colleague when he learned Franklin had overturned Wilkerson’s conviction.

“I turned to [him] and said, ‘We just lost military justice.’ I never thought [Franklin] would do this. I never saw this coming. I knew this would have huge, huge repercussions,” he recalled.

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, November 26th, 2014

In a New York Times Magazine cover story, Colonel Don Christensen announced that he has left the United States Air Force after 23 years and will become President of Protect Our Defenders.

On Sept. 26, a month after Brooks’s discharge hearing, Christensen said farewell to the Air Force. That evening, several dozen protégés attended a reception for the veteran prosecutor, and a few of them shed tears as Christensen treated them to a slide show that included images of his forefathers in the military. “I come from a long line of troublemakers,” he told his colleagues.

The following Monday, Christensen reported to his new job. He is now the president of Protect Our Defenders, a three-year-old nonprofit organization that has quickly become the nation’s pre-eminent advocacy group on behalf of victims of sexual assault in the military, with an advisory board that includes Wesley Clark and several other retired generals, in addition to Magic Johnson, Sigourney Weaver and Garry Trudeau. He will be recruiting pro bono lawyers for victims, helping to write legislation and serving as the chief critic of the system in which he worked for the past 23 years.

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PRESS RELEASE: Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor Colonel Don Christensen (Ret.) Named President of Protect Our Defenders

Posted by POD Staff, November 26th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 26, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** PRESS RELEASE *** 

FORMER AIR FORCE CHIEF PROSECUTOR COLONEL DON CHRISTENSEN (RET.) NAMED PRESIDENT OF PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS 

After Serving Over Two Decades in the U.S. Air Force, Colonel Christensen Retires from the Military to Effect Change and Speak Out Against the Sexual Assault Epidemic — Calls for Fundamental Reform to Broken System; Col Christensen Successfully Prosecuted the Fighter Pilot at the Center of the Aviano Scandal, But the pilot’s Conviction was Overturned by a Conflicted and Biased Chain of Command

Washington DC – Today, in a cover story that will appear in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, Colonel Don Christensen announced that he has left the United States Air Force after 23 years and will become President of Protect Our Defenders (POD). Having served for four years as the Chief Prosecutor of the U.S. Air Force—the longest time for anyone who has held that position—as well as a defense attorney and a judge in a number of high profile cases. Col Christensen brings a unique, perspective to the ongoing sexual assault crisis in the military, and has witnessed first hand the failures of the military justice system.

In his role as Chief Prosecutor, Col Christensen was responsible for managing military prosecutors all over the world. Among the many cases he chose to prosecute personally in this role was one of the most high profile cases in recent Air Force history—the case at Aviano Air Base in Italy, where Lt Colonel James Wilkerson was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault, sentenced to a year in jail, and dismissed from the Air Force. In that case, Lt General Craig Franklin, the convening authority, overturned the conviction and freed his fellow fighter pilot, reinstating him back into the Air Force against the recommendation of his own legal counsel.

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STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Calls on President Obama to Stand With Victims of Sexual Assault and Fix the Broken Military Justice System Ahead of the President’s 1-Year Deadline

Posted by POD Staff, November 24th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 24, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS CALLS ON PRESIDENT OBAMA TO STAND WITH VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND FIX THE BROKEN MILITARY JUSTICE SYSTEM AHEAD OF THE PRESIDENT’S 1-YEAR DEADLINE

Washington DC – Last December, President Obama gave military brass a year to “make significant improvements” when dealing with sexual assault. That deadline is nearly up, but we continue to see multiple scandals, shocking misconduct and criminal actions that have been inappropriately handled by military leadership, or simply swept under the rug.

Today, Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish sent President Obama an open letter (download PDF version):

Dear Mr. President,

In a speech you gave in May 2013, you said, “For those who are in uniform who’ve experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I’ve got their backs.”

The time has come for you to make good on your word.

Read Full Post…


[VIDEO] ESPN: Operation Gridiron

Posted by POD Staff, November 5th, 2014

ESPN aired their investigative report, “Operation Gridiron” on E:60 following an ABC News’ Nightline report.

This is not supposed to happen at a US military academy. After all, these are institutions where the nation’s future military leaders are shaped, schools that pride themselves on codes of conduct and honor. And yet, the United States Air Force Academy and its football team are embroiled in a controversy that places them in stark contrast to everything they stand for. Eager to root out sexual assault and drug abuse among cadets, in 2011 the Air Force created a secret network of informants to gather information. One of those informants was Eric Thomas, a member of the Academy’s soccer team. The information Thomas provided led to the convictions of three football players and included the first successful prosecutions of sexual assault at the academy in more than a decade. But not long afterward, the program was shut down, and Thomas was expelled for actions, he claims, were part of his work as an informant. According to Thomas and his Air Force handler, top players “seemed very well protected” and as soon as they were implicated in wrongdoing, military leadership sought to end the program. The Air Force disputes Thomas’ version of events and the reasons for his expulsion. E:60’s Jeremy Schaap reports on the debate raging over the program labelled Operation Gridiron, its use of informants, and whether members of the Air Force football team received preferential treatment.

Last October, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap spoke with veteran and Protect Our Defenders member Ariana Klay, and Attorney Susan Burke about the epidemic of sexual assault in the military in an episode of E:60, after three Naval Academy football players were accused of assaulting a 20-year-old female midshipman at an off-campus party.

 


MEDIA ADVISORY: ESPN To Air Investigative Report of Backlash Against Cadet and Air Force OSI Special Agent Who Blew the Whistle on Air Force Academy Football Team Sexual Assault Scandal

Posted by POD Staff, November 3rd, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 3, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** MEDIA ADVISORY ***

ESPN TO AIR INVESTIGATIVE REPORT OF BACKLASH AGAINST CADET AND AIR FORCE OSI SPECIAL AGENT WHO BLEW THE WHISTLE ON AIR FORCE ACADEMY FOOTBALL TEAM SEXUAL ASSAULT SCANDAL

U.S. Air Force Academy Conducts Superficial Investigation Into Sexual Assault Scandal, Top Academy Officials Do Not Review Evidence, Instead Protect Football Players and Retaliate Against Whistleblowers, Force Them Out — Watch Tomorrow Evening on ESPN

One Month Before the President’s Deadline for the Military to Improve Handling of Sexual Assault, Recent Scandals at the Air Force Academy, West Point and Fort Leonard Wood Demonstrate that Too Often Commanders Are Unable or Unwilling to Do So

Washington DC – Tomorrow, ESPN’s award-winning news magazine, E:60 is airing “Operation Gridiron,” an investigation into allegations of sexual violence involving members of the Air Force Academy football team, and what happened to the undercover cadet and Air Force special investigations agent who tried to blow the whistle. The Air Force won the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy this past weekend when they beat Army.

Click here to watch the “Operation Gridiron” trailer.

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[VIDEO] ABC News: Air Force Cadet’s Secret Story: I Blew the Whistle on Football Players and Sex Assaults

Posted by POD Staff, October 29th, 2014

***Please note*** This content may be triggering for survivors

Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish is featured in this investigative report from ABC News:

Thomas approached Protect Our Defenders, a group that traditionally represents service members who have been raped or sexually assaulted, for help with his case. He is now being represented by the organization’s Pro Bono Legal Network.

“Special Agent Enos and (then) Cadet Thomas were punished for taking sexual assaults at the Academy seriously and attempting to hold accountable those who perpetrated violence and created a dangerous and hostile environment,” said Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders. “But after their work led to the first prosecutions of sexual assault at the Academy in over ten years, the Air Force Academy responded by sweeping further cases under the rug.”

Read more here.

 


MEDIA ADVISORY: ABC News Investigative Report Uncovers Backlash Against Cadet and Air Force Special Investigations Agent Who Blew the Whistle on Air Force Academy Football Team Sexual Assault Scandal

Posted by POD Staff, October 29th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 29, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** MEDIA ADVISORY *** 

ABC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE REPORT UNCOVERS BACKLASH AGAINST CADET AND AIR FORCE SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS AGENT WHO BLEW THE WHISTLE ON AIR FORCE ACADEMY FOOTBALL TEAM SEXUAL ASSAULT SCANDAL 

U.S. Air Force Academy Conducts Superficial Investigation Into Sexual Assault Scandal, Top Academy Officials Do Not Review Evidence, Instead Protect Football Players and Retaliate Against Whistleblowers, Force Them Out — Watch Full Investigative Coverage this Evening on ABC’s Nightline

One Month Before the President’s Deadline for the Military to Improve Handling of Sexual Assault, Recent Scandals at the Air Force Academy, West Point and Fort Leonard Wood Demonstrate that Too Often Commanders Are Unable or Unwilling to Do So

Washington DC – Today, ABC News is airing an investigation into allegations of sexual violence involving members of the Air Force Academy football team, and what happened to the undercover cadet and Air Force special investigations agent who tried to blow the whistle. Air Force investigator Special Agent (SA) Brandon Enos, and Eric Thomas, a cadet informant, were retaliated against after their work in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) led to the first successful prosecutions of sexual assault at the Academy in over a decade. After helping to successfully prosecute the cases, SA Enos was transferred out of the academy, stripped of his badge and eventually forced out of the Air Force. Cadet Thomas was expelled for actions related to the undercover work he did during the investigation for the OSI. The ABC News investigative story was previewed this morning on Good Morning America, and a full 14-minute segment will air later on ABC’s Nightline at 12:35am ET.

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Protect Our Defenders Policy Director Miranda Petersen to Speak at Panel on Sexual Assault in the Military

Posted by POD Staff, October 9th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 9, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, Brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** MEDIA ADVISORY ***

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS POLICY DIRECTOR MIRANDA PETERSEN TO SPEAK AT PANEL ON SEXUAL ASSAULT IN THE MILITARY

Washington DC – On Friday, October 10th, Protect Our Defenders Programs and Policy Director, Miranda Petersen will be speaking at a public meeting of the Judicial Proceedings Panel on Sexual Assault in the Military.

The meeting will include panel deliberations on the current and proposed changes to the military statute dealing with rape and sexual assault. The panel will also focus on victim privacy issues in sexual assault cases. Specifically, the military will focus on its mandates to the review the admission of evidence of a victim’s past sexual conduct and a victim’s mental health records at Article 32 hearings, and at courts-martial in civilian jurisdictions.

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STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Congratulates “The Invisible War” For Two Emmy Wins and Brave Servicemembers

Posted by POD Staff, October 1st, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 1, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS CONGRATULATES “THE INVISIBLE WAR” FOR TWO EMMY WINS AND BRAVE SERVICEMEMBERS 

Washington DC – Last night, the film, The Invisible War, won two Emmys — one for Investigative Journalism and another for Best Documentary — at the 35th Annual News & Documentary Emmy® Awards in New York City.

Today, Protect Our Defenders President, Nancy Parrish, released the following statement:

“We congratulate everybody involved with The Invisible War for bringing the epidemic of sexual assault in the military out of the shadows and into to the forefront of America’s consciousness. The courage that our men and women in uniform showed by sharing their stories in this film is nothing short of remarkable. But, there is much more work to be done as the latest scandal at Ft. Leonard Wood has made painfully obvious. Multiple allegations of intimidation and threats of retaliation for soldiers reporting sexual assault are unconscionable.

Read Full Post…


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Calls for Investigation After Reports of Intimidation and Threatened Retaliation Against Victims of Sexual Assault at Fort Leonard Wood

Posted by POD Staff, September 25th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 25, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION AFTER REPORTS OF INTIMIDATION AND THREATENED RETALIATION AGAINST VICTIMS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AT FORT LEONARD WOOD 

Washington DC – Today, Protect Our Defenders called on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to launch an independent investigation after multiple allegations of intimidation and threats of retaliation for reporting sexual assault surfaced during the court martial of a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood, who was convicted of sexually assaulting and abusing eight female soldiers he was training.

Army Staff Sgt. Angel M. Sanchez was found guilty of four counts of sexual assault and six counts of abusive sexual contact at a court-martial Wednesday afternoon. He was also found guilty of several lesser charges, and had already pleaded guilty to wrongfully engaging in conduct of a sexual nature with three trainees.

During the drill sergeant’s sentencing testimony, one of the victims said that a Lt. Colonel had told her and other trainees not to report if they were sexually assaulted. “I have issues of trusting those who are in charge of me,” she said, after a Lieutenant Colonel told her “not to make any more allegations.”

Read Full Post…


Ft. Leonard Wood court-martial highlights sex crisis in military

Posted by POD Staff, September 22nd, 2014

Protect Our Defenders Policy Director Miranda Petersen is featured in this article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch:

In the law that passed, there are instead calls for a civilian secondary review if a commander decides that a sexual assault case doesn’t merit court-martial and a prosecutor wants to go to trial. Commanders can no longer overturn convictions, but they can reduce sentences.

Critics says it’s not enough.

“Your boss has no business deciding whether your report of rape deserves its day in court,” Petersen said. “That decision should be left up to legally trained, experienced prosecutors.”

Read more here.

 


Huffington Post: Standing With Survivors — POD’s Pro Bono Legal Network Marks 1st Anniversary

Posted by POD Staff, September 17th, 2014

Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish writes a blog for the Huffington Post, celebrating the one year anniversary of POD’s Pro Bono Legal Network:

Jenny was on her first duty assignment with the Marine Corps when a superior raped her on ship. When Jenny reached out to Protect Our Defenders (POD), she was facing an investigation that was going nowhere, with the military claiming they could not locate her active-duty assailant. POD found Jenny an attorney to fight to protect her privacy rights and demand answers from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Our staff is now helping her with an Inspector General complaint regarding the continued mishandling of her case.

Through the Pro Bono Legal Network (PBN) at Protect Our Defenders, we provide service members like Jenny and other survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) with free legal and casework support. As we continue to grow this program, we wanted to take a moment to share a snapshot of the PBN, so that survivors and service providers know of the assistance that we provide and where they can go to access help.

If you are a service member or a veteran in need of legal representation or case assistance related to your attack, please visit our website and fill out an intake form.

Read more here.


PRESS RELEASE: Protect Our Defenders Celebrates First Year of Pro Bono Legal Network Assisting Military Sexual Assault Survivors

Posted by POD Staff, September 17th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 17, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** PRESS RELEASE ***

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS CELEBRATES FIRST YEAR OF PRO BONO LEGAL NETWORK ASSISTING MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVORS 

Program Has Provided Casework Assistance and Connected Victims to a Network of Lawyers Willing to Handle Cases, Provide Legal Counsel at No Cost 

Washington DC – Launched over one year ago, Protect Our Defenders’ (POD) Pro Bono Legal Network (PBN) provides service members and veterans who are survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) with free legal and casework support. The volunteer network of attorneys and service organizations, along with POD staff, help and support victims attempting to navigate the complex and biased military justice system that all too often favors the accused and retaliates against victims.

Through the Pro Bono Network, POD continues to hear almost daily from these service members who in addition to their assault face a degrading and hostile work environment, and who have been denied the justice and assistance they need. Many have sought help from the resources provided by the military, and yet continue to face a lack of justice, suffer retaliation, and be denied the benefits they deserve.

“If you are an active duty service member who has been sexually assaulted and in need of support, Protect Our Defenders’ Pro Bono Legal Network is here for you,” said Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish. “According to the Pentagon’s own numbers, just a small fraction of survivors of rape and assault within the military ever report their attack. Those who choose not to come forward have very little faith in the military justice system, and rightfully fear retaliation. According to the Pentagon of the few who do come forward 60% state they were retaliated against.”

Read Full Post…


Standing With Survivors – POD’s Pro Bono Legal Network Marks 1st Anniversary

Posted by POD Staff, September 16th, 2014

By Nancy Parrish, President, Protect Our Defenders

Jenny was on her first duty assignment with the Marine Corps when a superior raped her on ship. When Jenny reached out to Protect Our Defenders (POD), she was facing an investigation that was going nowhere, with the military claiming they could not locate her active-duty assailant. POD found Jenny an attorney to fight to protect her privacy rights and demand answers from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Our staff is now helping her with an Inspector General complaint regarding the continued mishandling of her case.

Through the Pro Bono Legal Network (PBN) at Protect Our Defenders, we provide service members like Jenny and other survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) with free legal and casework support. As we continue to grow this program, we wanted to take a moment to share a snapshot of the PBN, so that survivors and service providers know of the assistance that we provide and where they can go to access help.

If you are a service member or a veteran in need of legal representation or case assistance related to your attack, please visit our website and fill out an intake form.

Protect Our Defenders see stories like Jenny’s almost every day. These service members come to us because they aren’t receiving justice or the assistance they need from the military. They have tried to operate within the resources given to them and yet they are still confronting a lack of justice and too often face retaliation. We created this program because of the horrific stories and the overwhelming need for assistance from people whose obstacles to justice were too great to confront on their own. Fortunately, we have amazing staff members, interns and attorneys who recognize this and are willing to lend their support.

Lauren was a career service member for over 15 years in both the Air Force and Air National Guard. In 2008, Lauren was physically assaulted and raped by her supervisor while stationed abroad. Mindful of retaliation, Lauren reported only the physical assault, and kept the sexual assault to herself for three years until she sought counseling in 2011. When her counselor broke confidentiality rules and informed her command of the attack, retaliation against her began. In November 2011, Lauren was placed on a “medical hold.” Since then, she has not been paid and has been prevented from working, with her case left unresolved.

When Lauren reached out to the PBN in early 2014, criminal investigations into the physical and sexual assault were still pending. She was told that her command was planning to administratively separate her, rather than medically retire her with the benefits she deserved. Although she was in contact with a Congressional office, no progress had been made. PBN staff worked with Lauren to compile a comprehensive case file and conducted outreach to Congressional offices on her behalf. After two weeks of facilitated communication with a second Congressional office that specialized on MST issues, Lauren was finally assigned a Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) attorney to assist her and advocate for her rights. Lauren’s SVC is now helping her through the process. We remain in contact with Lauren to do what we can to assure a positive outcome.

In addition to supporting survivors, POD works to provide resources and information to military Victim’s Legal Counsel (VLC) about how they can more effectively advocate for their clients. Unfortunately, VLCs and Special Victims Counsel (SVC) continue to face pressure from their leadership to limit the scope of their advocacy.  As a result many survivors continue to face retaliation and charges of collateral misconduct without legal support. POD is working to empower VLCs and SVCs through policy change, while continuing our push to fix the broken military justice system as a whole.

POD has supplemented its Pro Bono Legal Program by filing amicus briefs in several cases on issues ranging from a victim’s right to be heard in court, to the opposition of forced depositions prior to trial, and prevention of victims’ confidential therapy records and prior sexual history from being disclosed in court.

Unfortunately, both Jenny’s and Lauren’s stories are all too common. POD continues to hear from survivors whose rights are being undermined, who face retaliation for reporting and who struggle to get the benefits they are entitled to receive. No matter the situation, we work to come up with effective ways to address urgent needs—whether that means finding a pro bono attorney, drafting a letter to a member of Congress, or crafting a Freedom of Information Act request. Even for those survivors who are not sure what they need, PBN staff will do our best to find creative ways help.

As we grow the Pro Bono Legal Program, we encourage you to spread the word about our services for survivors by sharing this blog post, and by visiting our website or filling out our Pro Bono Network Intake Form to request assistance. One of our staff members will be in contact to schedule an intake interview as soon as possible.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of survivors.


Men and rape: GQ’s bold new series | CA’s groundbreaking new law

Posted by POD Staff, September 12th, 2014

GQ just published their investigative series with male survivors of military sexual assault, “Son, Men Don’t Get Raped”. The series features brave stories from Brian Lewis, Heath Phillips, Trent Smith and many others who have worked closely with us. Protect Our Defenders worked with correspondent Nathaniel Penn on this important piece for months, connecting him with survivors, military health professionals and support services. GQ had this to say about our nonprofit: “POD is the nation’s leading advocacy and support group for survivors of military sexual trauma. Their searchable Help page lists a wide array of local and national services, including MST treatment, legal help, and family therapy.” See the full GQ story. *Please note, the content may be triggering for survivors. 

More updates:

  • Outrageous news Last week, the former sexual assault prevention officer – who himself was accused of assaulting a woman last year – was issued a letter of reprimand last week, instead of facing trial. Many victims face graver consequences for reporting such a crime than the slap on the wrist Lt. Col. Krusinski received for committing one. Read more.
  • California will become the first state to take the prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command! Vets and survivors – including Kate Weber, a member of Protect Our Defenders and the 2013 “California Woman Veteran Leader of the Year” – were critical in helping to pass this bill that the San Francisco Chronicle describes as “a trendsetter.” Though the law does not affect national branches, its passing reflects the direction the country is heading toward national reform. Read more.
  • Air Force Academy continues to cover up sexual assault cases An investigator claims he was transferred out of the Academy and told he’d be kicked out of the Air Force. And OSI informant and cadet Eric Thomas was dis-enrolled. Their work work led to the only successful prosecutions of sexual assault in over 10 years at the Academy. We’ve joined with Sen. Gillibrand and Sen. Thune in calling for an independent investigation to review the handling of these cases. Read more.
  • National reform This spring over 600 advocates wrote messages of thanks to the 55 Senators who supported the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) to take the prosecution of sexual assault cases out of the chain of command. This fall, we’ll deliver the messages to Senators to remind them of your support when the legislation is once again brought up for a vote. Add your name now.

At our sold out benefit in August we hosted moderator and CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl and three distinguished speakers: General Robert Shadley (Ret), former Navy pilot Paula Coughlin, and Attorney Susan Burke. The event benefited our Pro Bono Legal Program, which celebrated its one-year anniversary this summer. Below, a photo of our moderator and speakers discussing the military sexual assault crisis in our military. Learn more about the benefit.


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Responds to GAO Report That Finds Pentagon Has Failed to Successfully Address Issues of Sexual Assault in Military Training Environments

Posted by POD Staff, September 9th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 9, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT *** 

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS TO GAO REPORT THAT FINDS PENTAGON HAS FAILED TO SUCCESSFULLY ADDRESS ISSUES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT IN MILITARY TRAINING ENVIRONMENTS

Washington DC – Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that the DoD has failed to properly oversee its programs to prevent sexual assault in military training environments, and must take further steps to address this problem.

The GAO Report found that the Air Force has failed to properly measure sexual harassment and assault in its training environment, has failed to fully implement its own recommendations, and has failed to even provide basic oversight or to measure the effectiveness of its programming.

Out of 46 recommendations from the Air Force’s 2012 Commander’s report to improve prevention, investigation, and response to sexual assault, the GAO found that only 39 had been fully implemented. However, according to the report, “the Air Force has not fully established an oversight framework to evaluate the effectiveness of actions taken in response to [its own] recommendations.”

Read Full Post…


GQ: “Son, Men Don’t Get Raped”

Posted by POD Staff, September 9th, 2014

GQ correspondent Nathaniel Penn wrote a long-form investigative report on the male survivors of sexual assault in the military.

The series features brave stories from Brian Lewis, Heath Phillips, Trent Smith and many others who have worked closely with us. Protect Our Defenders worked with Penn on this important piece for months, connecting him with survivors, military health professionals and support services.

The correspondent also wrote a blog post on where survivors can turn to for help. Penn highlighted our work, naming Protect Our Defenders the “nation’s leading advocacy and support group for survivors of military sexual trauma.”

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The moment a man enlists in the United States armed forces, his chances of being sexually assaulted increase by a factor of ten. Women, of course, are much more likely to be victims of military sexual trauma (MST), but far fewer of them enlist. In fact, more military men are assaulted than women—nearly 14,000 in 2012 alone. Prior to the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011, male-on-male-rape victims could actually be discharged for having engaged in homosexual conduct. That’s no longer the case—but the numbers show that men are still afraid to report being sexually assaulted.

Military culture is built upon a tenuous balance of aggression and obedience. The potential for sexual violence exists whenever there is too much of either. New recruits, stripped of their free will, cannot question authority. A certain kind of officer demands sex from underlings in the same way he demands they pick up his laundry. A certain kind of recruit rapes his peer in a sick mimicry of the power structure: I own you totally. “One of the myths is that the perpetrators identify as gay, which is by and large not the case,” says James Asbrand, a psychologist with the Salt Lake City VA’s PTSD clinical team. “It’s not about the sex. It’s about power and control.”

To understand this problem and why it persists twenty-two years after the Tailhook scandal, GQ interviewed military officials, mental-health professionals, and policy-makers, as well as twenty-three men who are survivors not only of MST but also of a bureaucracy that has failed to protect them.

Read the full investigative report here.


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Calls On Alaska Governor to Enact Fundamental Reform After Report Exposes Broken Justice System in Alaska National Guard

Posted by POD Staff, September 9th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 9, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT ***

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS CALLS ON ALASKA GOVERNOR TO ENACT FUNDAMENTAL REFORM AFTER REPORT EXPOSES BROKEN JUSTICE SYSTEM IN ALASKA NATIONAL GUARD

Washington DC – Today, Protect Our Defenders called on Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to stand with victims of rape and sexual assault in the Alaska National Guard and enact legislation that will take the handling of these cases out of a biased and often conflicted chain of command.

A report released last week, found that complaints by victims in the Guard were not properly documented and that victims were not referred to victim advocates. The report also found that victims’ privacy rights were violated, and that they faced retaliation from both their fellow servicemembers and commanders for speaking up.

Protect Our Defenders President, Nancy Parrish, released the following statement:

“Governor Parnell should support the transfer of all sexual assault cases in the Alaska National Guard to local police and prosecutors similar to that recently passed by the California legislature and signed into law.

“It is time for the Governor to take real action and fix this broken system. The members of the Alaska National Guard deserve a justice system equal to the system afforded to the civilians they protect.”

Read Full Post…


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Calls Letter of Reprimand for Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention Officer “A Slap on the Wrist”

Posted by POD Staff, September 5th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 5, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT ***

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS CALLS LETTER OF REPRIMAND FOR AIR FORCE SEXUAL ASSAULT PREVENTION OFFICER “A SLAP ON THE WRIST”

Washington DC – Today, the United States Air Force decided to punish Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, a former sexual assault prevention officer accused of groping a woman last year by issuing him a letter of reprimand, rather than pursuing a court-martial.

Protect Our Defenders President, Nancy Parrish, released the following statement:

“When Krusinski was assigned to lead the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), he was entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the military environment was safe from the very behavior he engaged in. Far from meeting that obligation, he behaved in a disgusting and morally reprehensible manner, and violated the trust of the Air Force and the American public.

“Krusinski’s ‘punishment’ – a slap on the wrist – is less than many victims get in retaliation for simply reporting such a crime, and it is vastly inadequate in comparison to the gravity of his actions. A letter of reprimand will do nothing to combat the victim blaming, often misogynistic culture within the military, and demonstrates a level of tolerance and acceptance for those who see sexual assault prevention as merely a joke. Our military claims to hold itself up to a higher standard. It is time they did. The American public is fed up with the continued drumbeat of outrageous scandals in the military, and the military’s lack luster response to them.”

Read Full Post…


[VIDEO] CA Military Sexual Assault Bill Becomes Law

Posted by POD Staff, August 25th, 2014

NBC Bay Area reports:

California has just made a major change in the way sexual assault allegations are investigated in the state military department. On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that requires sexual assault cases to be investigated by outside civilian law enforcement, not by military commanders.

It provides for no statute of limitations in cases involving sexual assault in California’s military department, which includes 24,000 people. The legislation also requires the department to report sexual assault statistics to the governor and lawmakers each year.

“I thank Governor Brown for signing this important legislation,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, who authored the bill. “Sexual assault is a serious problem throughout our military. While Washington debates how to address this crisis, California leads by example. Victims of sexual assault deserve our support and a respectful and effective justice system.”

Read more here.


Wing leaders lift alcohol ban in dormitories on Ramstein

Posted by POD Staff, August 21st, 2014

Stars and Stripes reports:

Though the ban on alcohol wasn’t driven by sexual assaults in the dorms, wing leaders consulted with sexual assault prevention experts on Ramstein about the policy, given the correlation of alcohol and sexual assaults across the military, Mordente said.

A Pentagon report released in May showed that two-thirds of sexual assaults across the military in fiscal 2013 involved alcohol use by the victim, the assailant or both. “I said ‘Please show me the data and make sure there’s not something here that I’m missing,’ ” he said. They told the commander that sexual assault, from an Air Force perspective, is a much broader issue, he said.

“It’s not about just the dorms. It’s about downtown K-town, it’s about 24-7, it’s about being airmen, it’s about treating people with respect,” Mordente said.

“The ban was not about sexual assault. The ban was about holding airmen to a standard. Lifting the ban is the fact that we, the leadership team, think our airmen can maintain that standard.”

Read more here.


PRESS RELEASE: Protect Our Defenders Support Calls for an Independent Investigation of Sexual Assault Cases and Retaliation at United States Air Force Academy

Posted by POD Staff, August 21st, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 21, 2014 Contact: Max Wertheimer, 415-302-1584, max@protectourdefenders.com

*** PRESS RELEASE ***

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS SUPPORT CALLS FOR AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT CASES AND RETALIATION AT UNITED STATES AIR FORCE ACADEMY

Washington DC – Yesterday, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and John Thune (R-SD) sent a letter to the Office of Special Counsel and the Defense Department inspector general’s office, calling to investigate claims of retaliation against an Air Force investigator and a cadet informant whose work lead to the first prosecutions of sexual assault at the United States Air Force Academy in over a decade.

According to news reports, after successfully prosecuting these sexual assault cases, the Air Force investigator, Sgt. Brandon Enos was transferred out of the academy, stripped of his badge and was told he was going to be kicked out of the Air Force. Sgt. Enos fought his dismissal, and is now seeking a medical discharge from the military.

The cadet informant, Eric Thomas was expelled for misconduct that he claims was sanctioned by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) – the office that both he and Sgt. Enos reported to when investigating these cases.

Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish today released the following statement:

“We applaud Senators Gillibrand and Thune for recognizing the need for an independent investigation into these alarming allegations of misconduct at the Academy and retaliation by Academy leaders towards those who have sought to expose it.  We encourage the independent investigation to include a review of all AF academy cases brought before the AF IG during this time period. With the highest rate of sexual assault reports of any service Academy for four straight years, it is clear the Academy has failed on its own to address the elements that make it an oppressive environment for victims and a target-rich environment for sexual predators. These latest allegations, if substantiated, serve as yet another example of the failure of the military to police itself, and of the desperate need for a professional and impartial military justice system.”

Read Full Post…


Sex-assault cases in California military shifting jurisdictions

Posted by POD Staff, August 21st, 2014

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

All sexual assault cases in the California military will be transferred from the chain of command and the court-martial system to local police and prosecutors under a law signed Thursday by Gov. Jerry Brown that is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

The move – which does not affect U.S. military branches like the Marine Corps and Coast Guard – comes amid a national debate over sexual abuse in the armed forces. Many victims’ advocates say the military justice system is failing.

Sexual assault cases involving active-duty members of the state military are already typically handled in local civilian courts, as the California Military Department isn’t equipped to pursue the cases. The new law codifies that practice starting in 2015, and is envisioned as a trendsetter.

Read more here.


Inquiry Urged on Air Force Academy’s Handling of Sexual Assault Cases

Posted by POD Staff, August 20th, 2014

The New York Times reports:

Two senators called Wednesday for an independent investigation into the handling of sexual assault cases at the Air Force Academy, saying they were concerned about “very serious allegations of wrongdoing.”

In a letter to the Office of Special Counsel, the two senators, Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, and John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, asked the watchdog agency to investigate claims that academy officials retaliated against an Air Force investigator and the cadet informant who helped him investigate drug use and sexual assault among football players. The senators sent the same request to the Defense Department inspector general’s office, asking it to investigate.

The investigator, Sgt. Brandon Enos, said in a letter sent this month to members of Congress that after a spate of successful prosecutions of football players for sexual assault and drug use in 2013, superiors shut down his investigation. After that, Sergeant Enos said, he had his badge taken away and was told that he would be kicked out of the Air Force. The details of the letter were reported Aug. 9 in The New York Times.

Read more here.


Military’s sexual assault protections may expand to civilian base workers

Posted by POD Staff, August 19th, 2014

The Dayton Daily News reports:

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner said Monday that he will explore greater protections from sexual assault for civilian employees on military bases such as Wright-Patterson.

Turner, R-Dayton, and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., met with Wright-Patterson leaders to learn how the base and Hansom Air Force Base in Tsongas’ home district, have reacted to legislative changes enacted in three major bills backed by the two lawmakers. The reforms tackled preventing a military commander from overturning a sexual assault conviction, ordering the dismissal from the military of a sexual assault perpetrator, and giving military-provided legal counsel to victims.

Turner and Tsongas co-chair the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Read more here.


Military workplace survey to gauge sexual assault, harassment

Posted by POD Staff, August 19th, 2014

Stars and Stripes reports:

A biennial survey that tracks sexual harassment, sexual assault and other workplace issues in the U.S. military is being conducted on behalf of the Defense Department.

About 580,000 servicemembers have begun receiving emails or letters by post inviting them to participate in the confidential, web–based RAND Military Workplace Study, Defense Department officials announced Tuesday.

It’s the first time the RAND Corp., a federally funded research and development center, has conducted the workplace and gender relations survey. DOD in 2006 began surveying the active and reserve components to estimate the extent of sexual assault in the military.

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Joni Ernst has already changed the debate on military sexual assault

Posted by POD Staff, August 19th, 2014

The Washington Examiner reports:

Joni Ernst’s support for changing how the military handles sexual assault may have more of an effect on Capitol Hill than on her campaign.

The Iowa Republican Senate candidate made news when she told Time last week that she believes military sexual assault cases should be handled outside of the chain of command.

Though Ernst didn’t say whether she’d back any specific legislation, that’s the same approach taken in a bill by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand which failed by just five votes earlier this year.

It’s also the same position as her Democratic opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley.

Read more here.