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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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.

Read more here.


Air Force Times: Chief to retire at lower grade after probe of 2006 conviction

Posted by POD Staff, January 31st, 2015

Protect Our Defenders Col. Don Christensen and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) are featured in this article from the Air Force Times.

For at least one lawmaker and victims advocacy group, that outcome illustrates why serious crimes should be handled by independent prosecutors – and not commanders.

Retired Col. Don Christensen, former Air Force chief prosecutor-turned-president of Protect Our Defenders, called the case a “perfect example of how the command-driven justice system covers for the crimes committed by military members. Clear message is if your commander likes you, you can get away with violence against women or sexual assault.”

Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has joined dozens of lawmakers in calling for an independent military justice system, called Soluri’s impending honorable retirement in the grade of senior master sergeant “nothing but a slap on the wrist.”

“Chief Master Sgt. Soluri was convicted of threatening to bash his girlfriend’s head with candle jar … and the military vowed he would get the proper punishment. Instead, his commanders decided they liked him and chose to keep him in the military and cover up the conviction,” Speier said in an email statement. “This is a systemic problem, and despite the Pentagon’s assurances, nothing’s changed.”

Read more here.


January News Roundup

Posted by POD Staff, January 30th, 2015

We’re starting a monthly news roundup in 2015. From the first few days of the new year, military sexual assault has been front and center in the nation’s news.

Air Force retaliates against victims’ attorney

  • Captain Maribel Jarzabek was a Special Victims Counsel (SVC) who posted comments on Sen. Gillibrand’s Facebook page expressing her support of military justice reform. The Air Force responded by opening a criminal investigation of Jarzabek for expressing “opinions online that could undermine public confidence in the Air Force,” as revealed by the Washington Post.
  • POD President Don Christensen was quoted in the article: “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.”
  • Stories like these “clearly show much more needs to be done” to improve the military justice system, said an Oakland Tribune editorial.
  • And before Jarzabek started working with victims, she said, “I did not believe the ‘Invisible War’ stories,” referencing the Academy Award-nominated documentary, reported a Washington Post op-ed.

Read Full Post…


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.

Read Full Post…


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
Read Full Post…


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

Read Full Post…


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.

Read Full Post…


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.

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“‘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.

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[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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.