Protect Our Defenders News Blog

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PRESS RELEASE: Madeleine Albright Joins Protect Our Defenders Advisory Board

Posted by POD Staff, April 14th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 14, 2015

*** PRESS RELEASE *** 

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT JOINS

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS ADVISORY BOARD 

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

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

Today, Dr. Albright released the following statement:

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

Read Full Post…


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

Posted by POD Staff, April 8th, 2015

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, April 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

Listen to Brittany’s story and read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, April 2nd, 2015

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 31st, 2015

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

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

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

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

Read more here.


USA Today: Suit revives controversy on Air Force explicit songbook

Posted by POD Staff, March 31st, 2015

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

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

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

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

Read more here.


Air Force songbook contains pornographic, misogynistic lyrics

Posted by POD Staff, March 31st, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 23rd, 2015

The Independent Vote Network reports:

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 20th, 2015

The Washington Post reports:

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 20th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 20, 2015

*** STATEMENT *** 

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

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

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

Read Full Post…


The Forgotten Victims Of Military Sexual Assault: Men

Posted by POD Staff, March 20th, 2015

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 13th, 2015

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 13th, 2015

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

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

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

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

Read more and listen to Ashlie’s story here.

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

Posted by POD Staff, March 11th, 2015

The San Antonio Express-News reports:

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 10th, 2015

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 9th, 2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

*** STATEMENT *** 

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

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

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

Read Full Post…


March Update for Protect Our Defenders Community

Posted by POD Staff, March 8th, 2015

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

Webinar on Male Survivors 

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

Women Social Justice Conference in Georgia

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

A Tribute to Melissa

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

A message on our community’s losses

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

 

Victory for MST Survivor who was Denied Benefits

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

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


February News Roundup

Posted by POD Staff, March 8th, 2015

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

Selective Censorship Undermines Military

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

Defense Secretary Responds to Military Sexual Assault

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

Survey of the Academies Show Hostile Climates

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

Bipartisan Legislation to Ensure Military Sex Offenders are Registered

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

Veteran Thrives Through Opera Music

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

Victory for MST Survivor Who was Denied Benefits

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

 

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

Protect Our Defender’s 2014 Annual Report

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

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

Posted by POD Staff, March 4th, 2015

Ms. Magazine reports:

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, March 3rd, 2015

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

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

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

Read more here.


Local veteran overcomes trauma through opera music

Posted by POD Staff, February 24th, 2015

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

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, February 13th, 2015

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

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

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

Read more here.


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

Posted by POD Staff, February 12th, 2015

February 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

Read Full Post…


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

Posted by POD Staff, February 12th, 2015

Download as a PDF document

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 12, 2015

*** STATEMENT *** 

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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).

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