Protect Our Defenders News Blog

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A Message from Paula Coughlin and Nancy Parrish: Good Community News & Opportunities, Summer Edition!

Posted by POD Staff, July 24th, 2014

Protect Our Defenders would like to take a moment to share with you a sample of the good works and opportunities happening in our community right now.

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BriGette is recognized: Protect Our Defenders Advisory Board member BriGette McCoy was just honored with the 2014 WNBA Atlanta Dream Inspiring Woman Award. The Atlanta Dream team called BriGette “a trailblazing woman who is making a significant impact in the community while creating a path for others to follow.” And this month, the Atlanta Veterans Affairs committee appointed BriGette as a new member of the committee. We thank BriGette for her continued service!

Opportunity for male survivors: Would you be interested in sharing feedback on the way sexual assaults of men are handled in the military? The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is conducting an independent, non-partisan review about how serving in the military may impact the decision of male service members to report sexual assaults. All conversations will be confidentialclick here to learn more and participate.

A free retreat for women: On September 7-12, 2014 in Rhinebeck, New York, the Omega Institute is hosting a free retreat for women who are currently serving or who have served in the military. This women-only retreat focuses on the unique issues of women’s military service and builds a safe, supportive environment to explore the strengths, resilience, concerns, and vulnerabilities of women who have served.Protect Our Defenders is also offering a limited number of travel stipends for women in the New York area. Find out more here.

Supporting veterans: POD Advisory Board members like Terri Odom, a US Army and Navy veteran, are actively supporting survivors and veterans this summer. Terri will be speaking on July 29 at the Florida Sexual Crimes Investigators Association training conference for a wide audience of investigators and prosecutors of sexual violence as well as counselors and advocates for victims. She’s also volunteering at the VFW National Convention in St. Louis this month and is helping with the St. Louis Welcome Home Warrior Summit to be held in September.

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The Monument Quilt: This August, survivors of sexual violence and advocates will be stitching hundreds of bright, red quilt squares to be displayed in community spaces across the country. The organizers of the Monument Quilt invite survivors to join them during their 12-city tour. “By stitching our stories together, we are creating and demanding public space to heal,” says Hannah Brancato, Co-Director of the project.

Justice Denied screening: On July 24, the documentary Justice Denied featuring social worker Geri Lynn Matthews and her husband Michael will be screened in Washington, DC at the National Association of Social Workers National Conference. Social workers across the country will have the chance to view the film and learn more about the issue of sexual assault of males in our military.

I hope the rest of your summer goes well. I’ll look forward to sharing more good community news and opportunities again this fall.

Warmly,

Paula Coughlin
Board of Directors, Protect Our Defenders

Nancy Parrish
Founder and President, Protect Our Defenders


Protect Our Defenders 2014 (2nd Quarter) Media Report

Posted by Nancy Parrish, POD President, July 13th, 2014

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS 2014 (2nd QUARTER) MEDIA REPORT

Protect Our Defenders (POD) continues to be the leading voice for victims of rape and sexual assault in the military. Our organization has also directly influenced policy recommendations passed earlier this year in Congress to help survivors, and ensure that our active duty service members are given access to a justice system equal to the one they protect.

We continue to work with survivors through our Pro-Bono Legal Network Program, which celebrates its 1-year anniversary this month. Our Peer-to-Peer Support program remains active, connecting survivors to those who can offer emotional support and information.

POD and our members have been featured in more than 700 articles and broadcast stories. These include pieces in all the major newspaper and television broadcast outlets. The issue has also made its way out of news cycle and into pop culture.

The epidemic of military sexual assault was a running storyline in the acclaimed series House of Cards. The series included an incident ripped straight from the headlines, where, Robin Wright’s character, Claire Underwood quotes a military brochure on sexual assault prevention that advises victims to submit to an attack rather than resist. Less than a year before, Protect Our Defenders broke the real life story of a brochure at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. that recommended submitting to an attack. The issue of sexual assault in the military was even featured in a sketch by comedian Amy Schumer.

Below are highlights and prominent stories that POD has been involved with over the past few months. To see all the work POD has accomplished in 2014, you can also look back at our 2014 1st Quarter Media Report.

Congress Adopts Provisions Proposed by Protect Our Defenders

On May 22, the House of Representatives passed their version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2015. The bill included several provisions proposed by Protect Our Defenders, who worked closely in formulating critical improvements with Congresswomen Jackie Speier (D-CA), who sponsored the amendments.

jackie-conferenceThese amendments included:

  • Limiting the “Good Military Character” defense to military-specific crimes, so that an accused rapist can no longer be found “not guilty” simply for being a good soldier;
  • Guaranteeing victims the right to appeal rulings regarding therapist-patient privilege;
  • And closing the loophole that military judges use to justify turning over victims’ confidential therapy records to their alleged rapist.

While POD sees these reforms as a supplement, not a substitute for true, fundamental reform, we are calling on the Senate to pass these reforms and sign them into law.

2014 Pentagon Report on Sexual Assault in the Military

In early May 2014, the Department of Defense (DoD) released their annual report on sexual assault in the military, which highlighted the need for fundamental reform, transparency, and accountability. According to the annual survey, reports of rape and sexual assault increased over 50%–from 3,374 total reports, with 2,558 unrestricted and 816 restricted, in 2012 to 5,061 total reports last year, with 3,768 unrestricted and 1,293 restricted. Based on earlier reports, we also know that over 50% of victims report the perpetrator was of higher rank and at least 23% of victims report the perpetrator was in their chain of command.

Media outlets relied on POD for comments and analysis in order to make sense of this new information coming out of the Pentagon. Along with releasing a statement, President Nancy Parrish’s comments were featured in articles from the Washington Post, Bloomberg News, Reuters and many others.

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POD Advisory Board Member and regular CNN contributor BriGette McCoy also wrote an op-ed that was featured in The Guardian the day after the report was released. And NBC News interviewed Brian Lewis, another POD Advisory Board Member for a story about the increase in numbers coming from the new report.

brian-lewis

Petition Calling on President Obama to Rescind Executive Order

On June 13, 2014, President Obama signed an Executive Order, proposed by the Pentagon undermining essential “rape shield” protections for sexual assault victims in the military. This order severely weakens victims’ privacy rights, and delivers a substantial blow to ongoing efforts by those who have been working tirelessly to reform the military justice system.

In response, POD worked with Tailhook whistleblower Paula Coughlin, a Protect Our Defenders’ Executive Board Member to create a petition on Causes.com, calling on the President to rescind the portions of the Executive Order that undermine basic privacy protections for victims of sexual assault in the military. In less than one week the petition received over 4,000 signatures.

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To promote the petition Nancy Parrish wrote a blog that was featured by the Huffington Post, while other advocates and influencers also joined with POD to spread the word. Arianna Huffington retweeted Nancy’s blog post to her 1.5 million Twitter followers. Causes.com and the Invisible War shared the petition on their social networks, and POD promoted the petition through our social networks as well.

In response to the President’s action, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) offered an amendment, approved by the House, which prohibits funding to implement the offending portion of the Executive Order. Rep Speier’s office subsequently quoted POD President Nancy Parrish in a press release announcing the amendment’s approval.

Social Media

Through Facebook, Twitter and Causes.com, POD continues to organize and communicate with our large survivor network.

POD has over 14,000 users following us on Facebook, with 10,000 new followers in just the past 6 months. POD has over 1,500 followers on Twitter. We also have nearly 19,000 supporters on Causes.com, the world’s largest online campaigning platform. POD uses all of our social networks to engage with survivors, media outlets, reporters, elected leaders and other advocacy organizations. POD has also been mentioned alongside other high profile non-profit organizations by SalsaLabs, one of the premiere online platforms for advocacy groups. And POD has over 20,000 subscribers to our email news updates.

In the coming months, we will work with our survivor community to launch a full-scale campaign targeting elected officials and will elevate our call for fundamental reform to our broken military justice system.


Family, judge convinced of soldier’s innocence in sex assault case

Posted by POD Staff, July 9th, 2014

The Killeen Daily Herald reports:

A judge gave hope to the family of a soldier convicted of sexual assault last week when he said he plans to recommend the conviction be overturned.

During the sentencing phase of Pfc. Thomas A. Chestnut’s court-martial July 2, Col. Gregory Gross said he researched how to overturn the conviction himself, but he couldn’t find a way to do it.

“I’ll recommend the convening authority overturn the conviction,” the judge said.

Chestnut was found guilty by a military jury June 24 of one specification of sexual assault and found not guilty of one specification of assault consummated by a battery. He was sentenced July 2 to three years in prison, reduction in rank to private and a dishonorable discharge.

Read more here.


[VIDEO] Harvey Bryant on commander authority in military sex assault cases: “I don’t think its best”

Posted by POD Staff, July 7th, 2014

WTKR.com reports:

“The primary goal is to increase confidence and put it in the hands of people trained in law to make decisions. We don’t let commanders decide who is having an operation, doctors in the military decide that,” said Bryant.

Bryant says he didn’t always feel that way–but changed his views after several months of official hearings and testimony from more than 650 people, many of them military officers.

Read and watch more here.


Panel member: Military sex assault response hard to fix

Posted by POD Staff, July 7th, 2014

The Virginian-Pilot reports:

Harvey Bryant hoped the panel he was appointed to last year would bring a sea change to the military’s handling of sexual assaults. Instead, Virginia Beach’s former top prosecutor says the group’s recommendations are little more than “a wading pool.”

He was one of nine members on a panel that examined the handling of military sexual assault and made recommendations for improving the process. The group submitted a 284-page report to Congress on June 27.

Bryant, who served for 13 years as Virginia Beach commonwealth’s attorney before retiring last year, said his biggest disappointment was the panel’s support for keeping authority over the judicial process in the hands of military commanders.

Read more here.


Politico: Adm. Howard: We ‘need to be’ in Iraq

Posted by POD Staff, July 6th, 2014

Politico reports:

Howard also reacted to recent comments made by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) about sexual assault in the military.

“Just last night a woman came to me and said that her daughter wanted to join the military and could I give my unqualified support for her doing so,” McCain said during a committee hearing. “I could not. I cannot overstate my disgust and disappointment at the continued reports of sexual misconduct in our military.”

In response, Howard said that she’s asked her sailors who are parents if they would allow their daughters to join — and almost always the answer is “absolutely.”

“We have to get after this sexual assault issue,” Howard said. “Sen. McCain is correct. But the Navy is the place to join.”

Read more here.


Panel urges caution in changing military law

Posted by POD Staff, July 4th, 2014

Protect Our Defenders is featured in this article from the San Antonio Express-News:

Nancy Parrish, founder of Protect Our Defenders, shares his belief that the military is out of step with the rest of society.

“At the heart of this debate are certain foundational principles of justice that are central to the identity of our nation and our citizens,” she explained. “These principles of equality, fairness, and blind justice should not be denied to any American simply for putting on the uniform and protecting our country.”

Even as defenders of the system resist change, Fidell, Parrish and other critics aren’t backing down.

Read more here.

 

 


Soldier found guilty of male-on-male sexual assault, judge disagrees

Posted by POD Staff, July 2nd, 2014

The Killeen Daily Herald reports:

A judge said he plans to recommend that a soldier’s sexual assault conviction be overturned.

During the sentencing phase of the court-martial of Pfc. Thomas A. Chestnut on Wednesday, Col. Gregory Gross, the judge in the case, said he researched how to overturn the conviction himself, but he can’t.

“I’ll recommend the convening authority overturn the conviction,” he said.

Chestnut was found guilty by a military jury June 24 of one specification of sexual assault and found not guilty of one specification of assault consummated by a battery.

Read more here.


DoD Announces New Award for Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation

Posted by POD Staff, July 1st, 2014

From a Department of Defense press release:

Defense Department officials today announced the first Sexual Assault Prevention Innovation Award to recognize military and civilian contributions that advance the department’s goals of preventing sexual assault.

Core elements of the military’s strategy to prevent sexual assault include the promotion of innovative ideas and enhanced collaboration among the services, officials said.

In May, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel unveiled a new roadmap for preventing military sexual assault that officials said reflects a wide range of integrated programs to influence behavior and reduce the crime of sexual assault. The 2014-2016 Sexual Assault Prevention Strategy was developed in collaboration with civilian experts and is intensely focused on shaping the environment where service members live and work, officials said, noting that it expands on the initial strategy published in 2008.

Read more here.


Air Force staff sergeant testifies in rape case involving Coast Guardsman

Posted by POD Staff, July 1st, 2014

Local10.com reports:

In an attempt to look less attractive to the men she worked with in the Air Force, a female staff sergeant shaved her head. And to look tough, she drove a pick-up truck with mufflers. On Monday, during her testimony in military court, the self-described “tough mechanic” used a tissue to cover her eyes as she cried.

Seven jurors learned that there were reports that from 2007 to 2010 different men had sexually harassed her, sexually assaulted her several times and raped her in 2009 and 2010. The judge, Coast Guard Capt. Christine Cutter, in the 2010 rape trial in Miami referred to the incidents as potentially false.

Read more here.


PRESS RELEASE: Protect Our Defenders Responds to Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Panel Findings That Support the Status Quo

Posted by POD Staff, June 30th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 30, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, 202-253-4330, brian@protectourdefenders.com

 

*** PRESS RELEASE ***

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS TO PENTAGON’S SEXUAL ASSAULT PANEL FINDINGS THAT SUPPORT THE STATUS QUO 

Panel Fails to Confront Fundamental Flaw Perpetuating Our Broken Military Justice System – Bias and Lack of Objectivity

Washington DC – Last week, the Pentagon’s Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel released their final report on “Whether Senior Commanders Should Retain Authority to Refer Cases of Sexual Assault to Courts-Martial” — siding with the status quo instead of an independent and impartial military justice system for our brave men and women in uniform.

The original intent behind this panel was to serve as a response to the ongoing crisis of rape and sexual assault in the military, and to investigate reports of mistreatment and retaliation against victims seeking justice. The fact of the matter is that victims continue to face a biased and hostile climate, suffering retaliation and intimidation when they do come forward to report the crime. Of those few victims who bravely come forward to report the crime, 60% stated they were retaliated against.

“It should come as no surprise that a panel, handpicked by those who oppose removing the handling of these crimes from the chain of command and staffed solely by Pentagon personnel, elected to support the status quo and arrived at the conclusion they were designed to reach,” said Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders. “This panel sadly became a tool to further delay needed reform. The fact that there was any dissent is remarkable.”

The Pentagon’s Response Panel completely missed the point—they failed to make recommendations that get to the heart of the bias and lack of objectivity perpetuating a broken military justice system. By failing to confront this fundamental flaw, crimes will continue to be ineffectively prosecuted, and cases will continue to be swept under the rug.

“At the heart of this debate are certain foundational principles of justice that are central to the identity of our nation and our citizens. These principles of equality, fairness, and blind justice should not be denied to any American simply for putting on the uniform and protecting our country, said Parrish. “It is disappointing to see this panel forgo the opportunity to finally ensure these rights are extended to our service members.”

Military leaders have enjoyed great deference from our leaders who, after being faced with decades of scandals and growing estimates of assaults within the ranks, have demonstrated an inability to effectively investigate and correct their own misconduct. Congress must remove the authority to handle these cases from the conflicted and often biased chain of command to protect service members and hold perpetrators accountable. The responsibility must be given to independent, professional prosecutors.

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Al Jazeera America: Independent panel releases report on ending military sexual assault

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/live-news/articles/2014/6/30/independent-panelreleasesreportonendingmilitarysexualassault0.html

Al Jazeera America: Number of reported military sexual assault cases up 50 percent from 2012

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/live-news/2014/6/number-of-reportedmilitarysexualassaultcasesup50percentfrom2012.html

US News and World Report: Military Panel to Hold Public Meeting on Sexual Assault

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/01/29/military-panel-to-hold-public-meeting-on-sexual-assault

Military Times: Panel: Commanders should retain authority in sex assault cases

http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20140130/NEWS05/301300023/Panel-Commanders-should-retain-authority-sex-assault-cases

Military Times: Panel slammed for closing sex assault policy hearings

http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20140127/NEWS/301270025/Panel-slammed-closing-sex-assault-policy-hearings

About Protect Our Defenders: Protect Our Defenders is a human rights organization.  We seek to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country, and re-victimized by the military adjudication system – a system that often blames the victim and fails to prosecute the perpetrator. Learn more about Protect Our Defenders at www.protectourdefenders.com or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ProtectOurDefenders or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ProtectRDfnders.

Protect Our Defenders partners with Attorney Susan Burke, Burke PLLC to advance lawsuits filed against the DoD and service academies for repeatedly ignoring rape, sexual assault and harassment, failing to prosecute perpetrators and retaliating against the victim.

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Sexual assault panel: Keep prosecutions in chain of command

Posted by POD Staff, June 30th, 2014

Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish is featured in this article from Stars and Stripes:

But Nancy Parrish, president of victim advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, said she was not surprised the panel supported the status quo.

“This panel sadly became a tool to further delay needed reform,” she said, noting that the members of the panel were chosen by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and members of Congress who opposed the Gillibrand bill.

“The fact that there was any dissent is remarkable.”

Read more here.


Independent panel releases report on ending military sexual assault

Posted by POD Staff, June 30th, 2014

Protect Our Defenders Advisory Board Member BriGette McCoy and Advocacy Committee Member Brian Lewis are featured in this story from Al Jazeera America:

During Al Jazeera America’s regular Sunday evening segment “The Week Ahead,” Thomas Drayton discussed the subject with Brian Lewis, a policy adviser at Protect Our Defenders, and Brigette McCoy, founder of Women’s Veterans for Social Justice, both survivors of sexual assault during their time in the service.

According to McCoy, some people are more confident in stepping forward, but many still feel limited in what they can say.

Lewis agreed and said that when he tried to take his case to authorities in 2000, he was told not to report it or he would face consequences. When he went ahead with the report, he was diagnosed with personality disorder and removed from service. He said a similar situation ensued when an airman tried to report a case last year.

“What that tells me is that nothing has changed in the last decade,” he said. “I know nothing has changed in the last 30 to 50 years.”

Read more here.


Barack Obama taps ex-Procter and Gamble exec Robert McDonald to lead VA

Posted by POD Staff, June 29th, 2014

Politico reports:

President Barack Obama plans to nominate former Procter and Gamble executive Robert McDonald to lead the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, which has been plagued by long waits for treatment, a White House official said Sunday.

The president will formally announce his pick on Monday, exactly a month after Eric Shinseki, the VA secretary since the start of the Obama administration, resigned on May 30 after allegations of delayed care came to light.

Read more here.


Commander Says He Was Fired for Helping Airmen

Posted by POD Staff, June 27th, 2014

Military.com reports:

The Air Force’s removal of a squadron commander for showing favoritism to subordinates in his unit has some in the service wondering about the boundaries of what constitutes improper fraternization and favoritism in military units.

Lt. Col. Craig Perry, former commander of the 737th Training Support Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, was formally removed from command in March for making derogatory statements about his immediate commander, deciding not to investigate alleged misconduct against one of his favored subordinates, and removing a letter of reprimand from the same subordinate’s personnel file, according to Air Force officials.

Read more here.


Marines: Officials encourage male victims to report sexual assault crimes

Posted by POD Staff, June 26th, 2014

Officials encourage male victims to report sexual assault crimes:

While the number of reported sexual assaults shot up sharply in 2013, defense officials said that based on survey data and other information, they believe the increase was largely due to victims feeling more comfortable coming forward.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered six initiatives for the military, including the review of alcohol sales which addresses the risks of alcohol being used as a weapon by predators who might ply a victim with drinks before attacking.

“Sexual assault is a clear threat to the lives and the well-being of the women and men who serve our country in uniform. It destroys the bonds of trust and confidence that lie at the heart of our armed forces,” Hagel said in an article written by Washington Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor titled “Pentagon encouraging male victims of sexual assault to speak up.”

Read more here.


Governor’s inadequate response to Alaska National Guard sexual assault complaints

Posted by POD Staff, June 25th, 2014

The Anchorage Daily News reports:

Questions remain as to why Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell waited almost four years to open an official investigation into 2010 Alaska National Guard chaplains’ reports to him of sexual assaults of particular servicewomen in the guard.

This is an important issue for all Alaskans. The sexual assault epidemic within U.S. military ranks rages on. Congress adopted many improvements to the military justice system in the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, but hesitated to pass bipartisan legislation that would address the core problem – that is, removing prosecution from the chain of command as provided for in the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA, S. 967/H.R. 2016). The act would authorize an independent, specially trained and experienced prosecutor to handle these cases. Alaska Senate Joint Resolution 20, supporting the MJIA, languished in the Senate Rules Committee this year. And the U.S. Dept. of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office’s (SAPRO) FY2013 survey found formal sexual assault complaints within military ranks increased 50 percent over the previous year.

Ethical men and women have good cause to care and attend to the work and cost of eradicating sexual assault in U.S. military workplaces. Victims are friends and cherished relatives. And as most military personnel live and work among us, our communities absorb the consequences of military sexual assault as well as the consequences of military commanders’ unwillingness to prosecute their perpetrators.

Read more here.


Why Military Sexual Assault Survivors Have Trouble Getting The Benefits They Deserve

Posted by POD Staff, June 23rd, 2014

The Huffington Post reports:

When a veteran submits a disability claim for post-traumatic stress disorder, a troubling factor can predict whether he or she will ever receive benefits: whether that claim is related to sexual assault.

A recent Government Accountability Office report found that while the Department of Veterans Affairs is approving an increasing number of veterans’ PTSD claims, applications for PTSD related to sexual trauma are much more likely to be denied than those related to combat or other trauma.

Read more here.


[VIDEO] Congresswomen Speier Introduces Amendment to Protect Military Sexual Assault Survivors

Posted by POD Staff, June 20th, 2014

Congresswoman Jackie Speier stood with victims of sexual assault in the military and offered an amendment on the floor of the Congress. The amendment, which was approved by the House, prohibits funding to implement and Executive Order signed by the President and proposed by the Pentagon that undermines essential “rape shield” protections for victims.

In a speech on the floor of the House, Rep. Speier said, ”Why should servicemembers be considered second class citizens in this country?”

Watch her introduction to the amendment:


Op Ed on MCM Changes from Protect Our Defenders President

Posted by POD Staff, June 20th, 2014

The National Institute of Military Justice Blog highlighted Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish’s Huffington Post blog post on their site:

Nancy Parrish has an interesting Op-Ed in Huffington Post, here, discussing why she thinks the changes to Art. 32 hearings are a reversal of recent gains on behalf of victims of sexual assault in the military justice system.  Our coverage of the changes being enacted is here and the Fed. Reg. notice is here.

Read more here.


NBC News: Army Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair Accused of Sexual Assault Demoted

Posted by POD Staff, June 20th, 2014

NBC News:

A U.S. Army general who became the face of a sexual assault problem plaguing the military was demoted two grades from brigadier general to lieutenant colonel before being retired from service.

Jeffrey Sinclair will be retired at the lower rank as punishment for his inappropriate conduct with women under his command, the Army said in a statement. This is the first time in a decade that the Army has reduced a retiring general officer in rank so severely.

Retiring at this lower rank means that Sinclair will not receive benefits he was entitled to as Brigadier General.

“Sinclair displayed a pattern of inappropriate and at times illegal behavior both while serving as a Brigadier General and a Colonel. I therefore decided there was sufficient evidence and cause to deny him those benefits,” Secretary of the Army John McHugh said in the statement.

Read more here.


New Presidential Executive Order Proposed by Pentagon Strips Victims of Their Privacy

Posted by POD Staff, June 19th, 2014

Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish writes for the Huffington Post:

Last Friday, President Obama signed an Executive Order amending the Manual for Courts Martial (MCM) that includes provisions that severely undermine essential protections for sexual assault victims in the military. This order ignores victims’ privacy rights and delivers a huge blow to ongoing efforts by advocates and Congress to reform the broken military justice system.

The President’s order substantially weakens the protections of Military Rule of Evidence 412 (MRE 412), the military’s version of the “rape shield rule,” which prohibits admission of evidence of a victim’s prior sexual history and orientation unless ruled admissible by a military judge. Although MRE 412 is meant to apply only to courts-martial, this rule has been applied inconsistently, with many investigating officers (IO’s) permitting consideration of such evidence during Article 32 hearings. Victims’ advocates like Protect Our Defenders have been fighting to eliminate the de facto admission of this evidence during Article 32 hearings in an effort to protect victim privacy and to ensure that trained military judges alone have authority to make decisions on admissibility at trial.

Read Nancy’s full post here.


TIME: Hillary Clinton Backs Gillibrand Bill to Curb Military Sexual Assault

Posted by POD Staff, June 18th, 2014

TIME reports:

Move puts Clinton on the other side of Obama, the Pentagon and Claire McCaskill on the issue

Hillary Clinton revealed a surprising position Tuesday: She actually supported Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to take the handling of sexual assaults in the military outside the chain of command. The bill failed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate in March. Instead, a version sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, which tightens the Pentagon’s prosecution of such cases, passed into law.

From the interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour:

MS. AMANPOUR: So, do you believe — hard choice — would you take this out of the chain of command?

MS. CLINTON: Well, I supported my friend Kirsten Gillibrand, and she wanted to take it out of the chain of command.

MS. AMANPOUR: Yes, she did.

MS. CLINTON: And remember it’s not only women, it’s men, who’ve been assaulted as well.

MS. AMANPOUR: That’s what I said, but mostly women.

MS. CLINTON: Mostly women, that’s right.

And she was — she was a fierce advocate for it. It was not successful this time around. Another approach was taken. But I think everybody on both sides of the aisle knows, if there is not evidence that this other approach is working, then we should go back to Kirsten’s proposal.

Clinton’s endorsement was news to Gillibrand, a Democrat who succeeded Clinton in her New York senate seat. Gillibrand and her staff learned about it on television. “Based on Secretary Clinton’s record of standing up for human rights, we were not surprised,” said Glen Caplin, Gillibrand’s communications director.

Read more here.


Politico: Hillary Clinton tackles Benghazi, pot and more

Posted by POD Staff, June 18th, 2014

Politico reports:

At another point in the CNN event, she took a position that appears to put her opposite the Pentagon brass and Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of her earliest Democratic 2016 supporters: She issued her first public endorsement of a controversial plan to overhaul military sexual assault policy by removing commanders from the key decision points in the prosecution of cases.

Clinton said she supported New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in her yearlong battle to force this change through legislation — if the Pentagon can’t clean up its act soon.
“She was a fierce advocate for it,” Clinton said of Gillibrand. “It was not successful this time around. Another approach was taken. But I think everybody on both sides of the aisle knows, if there is not evidence that this other approach is working, then we should go back to Kirsten’s proposal.”

“Take it out of the chain of command?” Amanpour asked to follow-up.

“Take it out, that’s right,” Clinton replied.

Read more here.


PRESS RELEASE: President Obama Signs Executive Order Undermining Rape Shield Protections for Victims of Rape in the Military

Posted by POD Staff, June 18th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 17, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, 202-253-4330, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** PRESS RELEASE ***

PRESIDENT OBAMA SIGNS EXECUTIVE ORDER UNDERMINING RAPE SHIELD PROTECTIONS FOR VICTIMS OF RAPE IN MILITARY 

Commander-in-Chief signs Executive Order Undermining Victims’ Privacy Rights; Denying access to the Draft and without Input from Public or Survivors; Protect Our Defenders Calls on President to Rescind Pentagon Led Effort and Calls on Members of Congress to Join Effort to Protect Victims 

Washington DC - President Obama signed an Executive Order last Friday, June 13, that delivers a significant blow to the ongoing efforts by survivors, advocates and lawmakers to modernize the military justice system and protect victims of rape and sexual assault in the military. Without any explanation of how these changes benefit the practice of military law or protect the rights of survivors, the order substantially weakens the protections of Military Rule of Evidence 412 (MRE 412), the military’s version of the “rape shield rule.” These changes are contrary to the intent of Congress, inconsistent with established procedure in sexual assault cases, and exemplify the DoD’s failure to seriously address defects in the military justice system.

Prior to the President’s execution of the June 13th Executive Order, the Rules for Courts-Martial 405(i) (“RCM 405(i)”) prohibited admission of evidence of a victim’s prior sexual behavior. Nevertheless, the rule was interpreted by many investigating officers as permitting consideration of such evidence even though MRE 412 gives such power only to a military judge during a court-martial and not to an investigating officer at an Article 32 hearing. Victims’ advocates and attorneys had been fighting to eliminate the de facto admission of such evidence during the Article 32 preliminary hearing process.

Read Full Post…


The Atlantic: Teaching Sexual Assault Prevention Through Comedy

Posted by POD Staff, June 17th, 2014

The Atlantic reports:

At Catharsis’s flagship military client—the Great Lakes Naval Base, where the company has been active for two years—anonymous reports of rape have dropped between 50 and 70 percent since the program started. More detailed surveys, usually designed to detect sexual assault instances where people’s willingness to report and conflicting definitions of “rape” can complicate surface statistics, confirm those statistics. In fact, the program has been so successful that the military has begun referring to the program as the “Great Lakes Model,” one they hope to emulate on other bases, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, who said the work at Great Lakes Naval Base was on the leading edge of “implanting comprehensive, evidence-based methods of sexual assault training and prevention.”

“They’re really a model not just for the Navy but for the whole military,” he told reporters recently.

But, Murphy and Stern are quick to point out, these statistics—while encouraging—are complicated and sometimes even counter-intuitive. Sexual assault reports can dramatically increase after a prevention program begins working, before they begin to subside.

“That’s really important to remember,” Murphy says, “In most situations, if you’re really doing the right thing, you’ll see that your reports go up before they go down.”

Read more here.


Fort Bragg Soldier Sentenced to Two Years in Prison, Convicted of Sex Assault and Battery

Posted by POD Staff, June 16th, 2014

WTVD reports:

An 82nd Airborne soldier has been convicted of sexual assault and domestic battery and sentenced to two years in prison as well as dismissal from the Army.

Captain Richard Camacho’s sentencing was handed down Friday afternoon, following a week-long court martial on Fort Bragg. Late Thursday, he was found guilty of battery and “forced sex contact,” against his ex-wife, also a former 82nd Airborne soldier. The incident occurred in 2012, following a return from deployment and admission to an affair with a subordinate by Camacho’s then-wife. She testified last week that the soldier had beaten her in their Bunnlevel home after the admission, and that she chose not report immediately because she was concerned about his career and still loved him.

Read more here.


Reps. Tsongas & Turner: What it will take to end sexual assault in the military

Posted by POD Staff, June 16th, 2014

Reps. Niki Tsongas (D-MA) & Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) wrote a joint op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor:

The Department of Defense’s “Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” for fiscal year 2013, released last month, revealed a rise in reported sexual assaults. Rather than signal what might have been the early success of recent legislative and military changes signed into law over the past few years, the increase in incidents means these heinous crimes continue to occur at an alarming rate, to both men and women.

As Congress, advocacy, and survivor groups dig further toward the roots of the issue, one thing has become clear: A widespread problem necessitates widespread accountability.

Accountability in the military must begin at the top and extend across the services, to every rank and position. With that goal in mind, we recently introduced the Furthering Accountability and Individual Rights within the Military Act of 2014 (FAIR Military Act), which was supported by the Service Women’s Action Network and has received bipartisan support from the House Armed Services Committee. The bill, which will be included in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is aimed at eliminating bias in the military justice system and increasing accountability among all levels of the military.

Read more here.


National Guard commander leads from experience

Posted by POD Staff, June 14th, 2014

The Baltimore Sun reports:

The public service video produced by the Maryland National Guard on sexual assault begins like others. There’s footage of troops training in the field. A narrator warns of predators within the ranks. A succession of leaders discusses the impact of assaults on service members and their teams.

Then Brig. Gen. Linda Singh comes on the screen.

“Speaking from personal experience, and having been sexually molested as a teenager, I sought out what I thought was the right support structure,” the commander of the Maryland Army National Guard says. “And, unfortunately, it turned out not being the support structure that I needed.”

Read more here.


Putting a Band-Aid on rape won’t work

Posted by POD Staff, June 13th, 2014

The Altamont Enterprise reports:

But, while we commend the effort to provide rape survivors with their own counsel, how effective is it? We still share Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s concerns that those victimized by rape may well not trust their commanders to handle accusations the right way; we’d back her narrowly defeated bill for independent military prosecutors if it came up again.

A sea change is needed.

In no other crime does a victim feel shame. The she-asked-for-it mentality puts blame and restrictions on women — they are told not to dress suggestively or not to walk alone at night — that are undeserved. Many feel like they were to blame.

Read more here.


Leaders must watch their words on military sexual assault

Posted by POD Staff, June 13th, 2014

The Hill Reports:

The appeals court for the Navy and Marine Corps recently threw out the conviction of a Marine staff sergeant for sexual assault on the basis of unlawful command influence (UCI) from the commandant of the Marine Corps. This follows multiple rulings over the past year or so mitigating charges against service members on the basis of UCI from President Obama.

Readers unfamiliar with the customs of military service might understandably be confused, even outraged, by the notion that senior leaders exhorting members of the armed forces to “fix” a culture too tolerant of sexual assault could be prejudicial to service members’ due process rights, particularly to a fair and impartial panel of jurors, or “members” in military parlance. After all, demanding better performance in areas where shortfalls are observed is a hallmark of good leadership.

Read more here.


Rep. Jackie Speier: The Blue Angels Spiraled Out of Control

Posted by POD Staff, June 11th, 2014

Congresswoman Jackie Speier writes for the Huffington Post:

And that’s exactly what is wrong with the entire military justice system. Most don’t object because they fear retaliation, they fear they will lose their jobs. They know based on history that little action will ever be taken. No commander wants his unit marred by allegations of misconduct and often they do all they can to keep allegations quiet. Commanders are the sole route for justice in the military and they fail our service members repeatedly to protect their own reputations.

Read more here.


Fears in wake of Coast Guard sex assaults

Posted by POD Staff, June 11th, 2014

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

A U.S. Coast Guardswoman looked down while using a restroom stall on the military service’s Alameda base to see a man peering up.

“Are you sick?” she asked.

It was November 2011. The woman said later that she wanted to believe the man was ill. But this was the women’s restroom. She reported him the next morning.

Still, Petty Officer First Class Christopher Molloy went unpunished. He continued providing medical care at the Coast Guard sick bay on Yerba Buena Island, and the woman continued to see him at the Alameda base.

Read more here.


Minnesota delegation pushes Army to clarify new rules on sexual assault victim rights

Posted by POD Staff, June 10th, 2014

The Star-Tribune reports:

Minnesota’s eight House members and both senators collectively urged the Army Tuesday to clarify a new directive expanding legal services to victims of sexual assault in the National Guard.

The Army recently released new rules expanding important legal services to certain victims of military sexual assault, but the rules don’t cover National Guard members who become victims of sexual assault outside drill weekends or military duties.

Minnesota’s ten members of Congress say the directive will undermine the Minnesota National Guard’s ability to “effectively provide support services to survivors of sexual assaults,” according to a release.

Read more here.


Report: Benefits claims related to sexual assault treated unevenly

Posted by POD Staff, June 10th, 2014

The Air Force Times reports:

Veterans Affairs benefits workers are still wildly inconsistent in their handling of claims related to military sexual assault despite years of emphasis on the issues, a new Government Accountability Office report has found.

Outside advocates say the findings come as little surprise to thousands of frustrated victims seeking help from the department, many of whom have complained about the benefits process for years.

Read more here.


[VIDEO] Vets advocate: Problems are not new issues

Posted by POD Staff, June 8th, 2014

HLN reports;

More than a week after the resignation of Eric Shinseki, many people are asking: How serious are the problems in the Veterans’ Administration and how do we fix them? A series of reports by CNN exposed the sometimes deadly delays veterans face when they try to get medical care.

BriGette McCoy founded an organization to help and support women veterans. She joined Weekend Express to talk with Lynn Berry about her experiences with the VA.

Read and watch more here.


USA Today: Soldiers in sensitive posts had abuse, drug histories

Posted by POD Staff, June 8th, 2014

USA Today reports:

More than 350 of the 588 soldiers the Army has disqualified from sensitive posts, including sexual assault counselors, had committed offenses ranging from sexual assault to drug abuse to theft, according to Army data obtained by USA TODAY.

They make up the largest group of the soldiers the Army has deemed unfit in the past year to serve as sexual assault counselors and victims’ advocates, recruiters and instructors. They were swept up in a screening of troops in sensitive positions ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in light of the military’s sexual assault crisis. This is the first time the Army has broken down the offenses that had disqualified them; it did so at the request of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Read more here.


USA Today: Admiral hopes to squelch military scandals

Posted by POD Staff, June 5th, 2014

USA Today reports:

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair cut a plea deal with prosecutors in March over extramarital affairs he had with subordinates, one of whom accused him of sexual assault and threatening to kill her. Sinclair’s deal included a $20,000 fine, but he avoided a jail term.

And the bad news keeps coming: Tuesday, the Navy reprimanded the commander of its elite flying team, the Blue Angels, for creating “a hostile work environment through pervasive sexual harassment,” according to a Navy report.

Capt. Gregory McWherter was relieved of command for tolerating inappropriate behavior, including the “proliferation of explicit pornography and sexually suggestive images in the cockpits” of the Blue Angels’ F-18s, pervasive homophobic humor in the unit and the painting of a blue and gold penis on the roof of winter training facilities in El Centro, Calif.

Read more here.


Article 32 Hearing Wraps In Case Of Fort Hood Sgt. Accused Of Running Prostitution Ring

Posted by POD Staff, June 5th, 2014

Texas Public Radio reports:

An Article 32 hearing, the military version of a grand jury, has completed its investigation of a Fort Hood staff sergeant accused of running an on-base prostitution ring with female soldiers.

The original charges allege Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen used his position in the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response Program (SHARP) to target women having financial difficulties. McQueen allegedly convinced the women to work as escorts for higher-ranking officers.

Read more here.


Naked photos, lewd practices cited in case against Blue Angels’ leader

Posted by POD Staff, June 4th, 2014

The Associated Press reports:

A former Blue Angels commander tolerated inappropriate sexual comments and pornographic images in the workplace — including photos of naked women in the cockpits of the precision flying team’s planes, the Navy said Tuesday.

Capt. Gregory McWherter was found guilty of violating two articles under the military’s code of justice during nonjudicial proceedings convened Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The articles were failure to obey an order or regulation and conduct unbecoming of an officer by fostering a hostile command climate and failing to stop “obvious and repeated instances of sexual harassment, condoning widespread lewd practices within the squadron and engaging in inappropriate and unprofessional discussions with his junior officers,” the Navy said in a statement.

He will be given a letter of reprimand that will go in McWherter’s permanent file and is widely seen as a career-ender in the service. McWherter told Navy officials he did not wish to speak to the media, said Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a spokesman at Naval Air Forces.

Read more here.


Hearing concludes for Fort Hood sergeant accused of forming prostitution ring at Army post

Posted by POD Staff, June 4th, 2014

The Associated Press reports:

An officer will decide whether a Fort Hood sergeant will face a court-martial for allegedly setting up a prostitution ring of cash-strapped female soldiers.

Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen faces 21 criminal charges that include pandering, adultery and sexual assault.

During the two-day, Article 32 hearing — similar to a grand jury — three women testified that McQueen recruited or attempted to recruit them to sell sex to higher-ranking soldiers.

Read more here.


Former Blue Angels CO reprimanded for ‘toxic’ climate

Posted by POD Staff, June 3rd, 2014

Military.com reports:

The former leader of the Blue Angels was found guilty at an admiral’s mast Monday of condoning crude practices on the flight team that led to a sexually hostile command climate, Pacific Fleet said in a Tuesday news release.

Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commanding officer of the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, received a letter of reprimand from Adm. Harry Harris, head of Pacific Fleet, for “failing to stop obvious and repeated instances of sexual harassment, condoning widespread lewd practices within the squadron and engaging in inappropriate and unprofessional discussions with his junior officers,” the release said.

Read more here.


Army soldier at Fort Hood accused of running prostitution ring

Posted by POD Staff, June 3rd, 2014

Al Jazeera America reports:

A U.S. Army soldier appeared before a military panel on Tuesday to address allegations that he operated a prostitution ring with at least three cash-strapped female soldiers at Fort Hood, one of the largest Army bases in the country.

The case is another in a spate of embarrassing sex-related incidents in the military that prompted Congress to look at ways to make top brass more accountable for the conduct of soldiers.

Sgt. 1st Class Gregory McQueen faces 21 charges related to pandering, conspiracy, maltreatment of a subordinate, abusive sexual contact, adultery and conduct of a nature to bring discredit to the armed forces, military officials said.

Read more here.


Military shouldn’t investigate sexual assaults in Canadian Forces, say experts

Posted by POD Staff, June 2nd, 2014

The Hill Times reports on sexual assault in the Canadian military:

Ian Bron, a former Canadian Navy officer who was a victim of abuse in the 1980s, said the investigation and prosecution of sexual assaults need to be removed from the military.

“The amount of influence that both the military police and the military lawyers have is quite extraordinary. They’re not just representing the victim, they’re representing the military,” said Mr. Bron, now a director at whistleblower organization Canadians for Accountability, in an interview.

“So if they have a senior officer that doesn’t really want a particular case to come out, it’s going to take a great deal of individual moral courage and strength to resist that. The best thing to do is just to take most of that process out of their hands. That just removes any conflict-of-interest that might exist,” said Mr. Bron.

Read more here.


Air Force training command head says Lackland morale on upswing

Posted by POD Staff, June 2nd, 2014

The San Antonio Express-News reports:

The head of the Air Force’s training command said he wasn’t surprised by critical comments that instructors at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland made last year about their leaders, working conditions and recruits under their watch.

Gen. Robin Rand said it was a rough time on the base when the survey of instructors was done last July. But he said “a lot of the angst” — caused by a manpower shortage that forced them to put in long work hours and give up vacation — was addressed.

He also said basic training is “on the right glide path” after a sex scandal that prompted a highly publicized command-directed investigation two years ago. He said a more recent survey showed morale is rising among trainers in Lackland’s elite instructor corps.

Read more here.


Mixed Results for Women in House Version of National Defense Authorization Act

Posted by POD Staff, May 30th, 2014

RH Reality Check reports:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last week, despite veto threats from the White House over Guantanamo Bay and spending cuts. Now begins the likely long wait until the Senate follows suit, and issues like how to handle military sexual assault may continue to spark heated disagreement. However, there is still some potential good news for women soldiers in the final House version of the bill.

Debate over the Senate version of this “must-pass” defense legislation earlier this year included a tough fight led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) over changing how military sexual assaults are prosecuted. Military commanders can influence the outcome of sexual assault prosecutions at three stages: deciding whether to prosecute a case in the first place, selecting the jury, and potentially overturning sentences. Advocates urge that commanders need to have these powers taken away because survivors don’t trust the system enough to come forward, fearing retaliation from commanders or even having been sexually assaulted by a commander in the first place, while defenders of the status quo fear undermining commanders’ authority. Gillibrand’s bill would have stripped commanders of all three powers, for all felonies and not just sexual assault, and instead let a military prosecutor decide whether to pursue the case.

Read more here.


Alleged sex assaults by drill sergeant the latest in a long line during military training

Posted by POD Staff, May 30th, 2014

The Washington Post reports:

The alleged sexual assault of numerous female trainees by an Army drill sergeant in Missouri has underscored two persistent points of contention in the military: whether the Pentagon has done enough to vet troops who oversee introductory training, and whether men should supervise female trainees at all.

The questions arise anew after the latest set of allegations against a U.S. service member responsible for training subordinate female troops. Army Staff Sgt. Angel M. Sanchez faces a possible court-martial for numerous alleged actions, including forcing recruits to perform oral sex and raping a female soldier while in Afghanistan between March 2011 and March 2012. He appeared at a pretrial hearing on the base that concluded on Wednesday.

The latest allegations come despite a renewed Pentagon effort to crack down on sexual assaults in the military. Since May 2013, the Pentagon has launched more than two dozen initiatives to stop sexual assault; Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also ordered the services to scrutinize the backgrounds of recruiters, drill instructors, sexual assault response officials and others in positions of authority.

Read more here.


STATEMENT: Protect Our Defenders Responds to DoD Panel Recommendations

Posted by POD Staff, May 30th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 30, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, 202-253-4330, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** STATEMENT ***

PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS RESPONDS TO DOD PANEL RECOMMENDATIONS 

Washington DC – Today, the DoD Response Panel to Adult Sexual Crimes concluded deliberations on their third and final subcommittee report.

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

“We are disheartened—though not surprised—to see that all of the evidence pointing to the need for fundamental reform has been disregarded in favor of Pentagon policies that perpetuate a biased and unjust system.

“From the outset this Pentagon-backed panel has defended the status quo. While the original purpose of the panel was to evaluate victim experience and improve DoD response to sexual crimes, it has instead become a tool to further delay needed reform.

Read Full Post…


In survey, Lackland drill instructors rip leaders, say they fear recruits

Posted by POD Staff, May 29th, 2014

The San Antonio Express-News reports:

A survey of basic-training instructors conducted during the worst sex scandal in Air Force history revealed a sharp distrust of senior commanders at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and a widespread fear of recruits.

In occasionally bitter comments, some instructors lashed out at basic-training leaders.

They talked of stressful working conditions and declining standards that had made training too easy, with recruits even saying they expected to have a harder time.

Read more here.


[VIDEO] VA will pay Mainer $405,000 in back benefits related to military sexual assault

Posted by POD Staff, May 29th, 2014

WSCH Maine reports:

A Millbridge woman is being awarded $405,000 from the Veterans Administration for back benefits related to sexual assaults while she was serving in the military.

Ruth Moore was 18 years old when her supervisor raped her on a base in the Azores. When she reported the crime, he raped her again in retaliation. When she repeatedly sought treatment benefits, she was told she lacked sufficient evidence and military doctors instead diagnosed her with personality disorders.

Now, almost two decades later, the VA informed her this morning that they has made, “a clear and unmistakable error” and agreed to pay her back benefits in the sum of $405,000.

Read more here.