We honor, support, and give voice to the brave men and women in uniform who have been raped or sexually assaulted by fellow service members. We seek to fix the military training, investigation and adjudication systems related to sexual violence, systems that often re-victimize survivors by blaming them while failing to prosecute perpetrators.
Protect Our Defenders News Blog
Protect Our Defenders welcomes blog posts on our news page on timely topics related to military sexual assault. If you have an idea for a post, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The more I have spoken out, the stronger I have gotten,” [U.S. Army veteran Judy Atwood-Bell] explained. “I have healed faster than I ever imagined. With everything that is coming out, I have been getting more and more pissed off and it may sound strange, but I’m happy all this stuff is coming up here, here and here, because it’s proving our point, on a continuous basis. What we’re saying is it has to change.”
Karisa King reports for the San Antonio Express-News:
Decades after sexual assaults in the military started producing a highly publicized scandal, they still occur in appalling, mind-numbing proportions. And the military’s conduct in the aftermath still makes victims of victims.
Karisa King reports for the San Antonio Express-News:
When she returned for her next weekend training in May, she was required to drill with the officer she had accused.
Tortured by the close proximity, in which she literally bumped into him after breaking from parade formation one day, she found herself retreating to a bathroom stall, crying and vomiting. Soon after, she asked for a transfer.
In July, her company commander told her she had been placed on a “nontransferable flag” as a result of the investigation into her assault, which meant she could not leave the unit.
Fox News interviews Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee Member and Former Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin-Puopolo:
It took years for Ruth Moore of Milbridge, Maine, to begin getting treatment from a VA counseling center in 2003 — 16 years after she was raped twice while she was stationed in Europe with the Navy. She continues to get counseling at least monthly for PTSD linked to the attacks and is also considered fully disabled.
“We can’t cure me, but we can work on stability in my life and work on issues as they arrive,” Ms. Moore said.
A seven-month San Antonio Express-News investigation into the pervasive and long-standing problem of sex assaults in the military shows victims who report the incidents often are retaliated against and discharged on false claims that they have mental disorders. Offenders, meanwhile, are rarely punished, and most are allowed to stay in the armed forces.
Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee members Elle Helmer, Brian Lewis, Jenny McClendon, and Terri Odom were interviewed for the report.
Karisa King and the San Antonio Express News spent seven months examining how the military treats sexual assault reports, interviewing dozens of victims, advocates and experts and reviewing thousands of pages of military documents. Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee members Elle Helmer, Brian Lewis, and Jenny McClendon shared their stories for the series.
On the night she reported that she’d been raped, the colonel at Marine Barracks Washington refused to grant her medical help until she argued that her head injury demanded immediate attention. He agreed to let her go, but only after arranging for her to see a doctor he knew at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
“Don’t say anything else and come straight back,” he told her.
His instructions made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. She was put into a car with a captain who was supposed to drive her there. But she insisted he take her to a different hospital at Andrews AFB, where no one connected to the colonel would be awaiting her arrival.
She had a growing suspicion that the Marines she’d been trained to trust with her life did not have her back, and the Marine code of loyalty that drew her into service — Semper Fi, always faithful — did not apply to her, at least not if she spoke out as a victim of rape.
The attack in the major’s office was a betrayal by a superior she had trusted. But she eventually would regard the response from her chain of command and the military justice system as the biggest betrayal of all.
The Military Rape Crisis Center, an advocacy organization, is urging state legislatures to ensure that their National Guard conduct codes allow for adequate prosecution of sexual assault and proper treatment of victims, said Jennifer Norris, a center victim advocate. So far, bills have been proposed in two states, Maine and Louisiana. Maine’s bill, a study, would assess such issues as mandatory separation from the Guard of convicted sex offenders, mandatory insurance coverage for abortion in cases of rape, and required sexual assault prevention courses for officers. In Louisiana, a definition of sexual harassment and assault would be put into its Military Justice Code for the first time.
The San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board writes:
Escalating degrees of authority are invested in each link up the military chain of command, with the most power reserved for that person at the pinnacle at any base or major unit. This is thought necessary to foster order and discipline, crucial both to military readiness and the ability to fight wars.
Refusing to recognize and denying care and justice to sexual assault victims in the military does nothing to preserve order and discipline. Drumming these victims out of the service as mentally ill misfits does not cover these commanders in glory. This calls into question whether military need or the desire to protect the institution is motivating these decisions.
Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish writes in the San Antonio Express-News:
Rather than assure victims that their distress about their attacks is a normal response, a prime route to mistreatment of victims is to slap them with errant diagnoses of personality or mood disorders. Then, based on such classifications, they are stigmatized and often discharged without benefits or health care. Their perpetrators usually go free, at least partly because it is easy to challenge the credibility of a victim who is psychiatrically labeled.
Personality disorder is defined as a stable, enduring mental illness, one that develops in adolescence or early adulthood and persists over time. In contrast, post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, develops in the aftermath of a traumatic event — such as combat or a sexual assault. Too often, military doctors or personnel wrongfully attribute symptoms experienced by victims of sexual assault to nonexistent pre-existing personality disorder or bipolar disorder.
Tabassum Zakaria and David Alexander report for Reuters:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Under pressure to fight sexual assault, the U.S. armed forces in recent years rolled out education programs about proper sexual conduct through methods like role playing and video games.
The increase in education has nevertheless failed to prevent what the nation’s top general called last week “a crisis” after the Pentagon reported a 37 percent jump in the estimated number of sexual assault cases in 2012.
RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — A different kind of fight is being waged by a group of military men and women in the Federal Appeals Court on Broad Street in Richmond.
“The men and women who have come forward in this lawsuit are so brave. They’ve taken a stand and put a face to all of those other survivors,” said Miranda Petersen with Protect our Defenders, a support group for military members. “Rape and sexual assault is an epidemic in our military right now.”
Twenty-five women and 3 men who serve or have served in the military and claim to have been raped or sexually assaulted are appealing a lower court’s ruling that upholds the law stating that soldiers, sailors airmen and marines cannot sue the military for injuries.
The Up panel, including Protect our Defenders Advocacy Committee member Jessica Hinves discusses whether military justice works in sex assault cases, and how women in Washington could improve conditions for women in the military.
Two senior military officers said for the first time Friday that they were “open” to proposed legislation that would overhaul military law in response to an epidemic of sexual assaults, acknowledging that victims lack faith in commanders to handle the problem.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh III, the service’s top commander, said they were willing to consider giving military prosecutors, instead of legally untrained commanders, the authority to decide whether to pursue sexual-assault investigations.
UPI reports on survivors, including Protect Our Defenders’ Advocacy Committee member Brian Lewis, speaking up about their assaults:
WASHINGTON, May 17 (UPI) — Male survivors of rape while serving in the military say they are often deemed “liars and troublemakers” when they report abuse.
The Pentagon estimated about 13,000 of the 1.2 million men serving in the military suffered sexual assault last year, NBC News reported. About 12,100 of the 203,000 women in uniform were sexually assaulted on active duty last year.
The Defense Department has said men “report at much lower rates than female survivors.”
A “direct threat” against a U.S. congresswoman — posted on a military-oriented Facebook page that graphically belittled her and her efforts to stem sexual misconduct within the branches — has been referred to U.S. Capitol Police for investigation.
The threat was made last week against Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and her husband shortly after Speier sent a letter May 8 to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informing him of the Facebook page which, according to Speier, helped “contribute to a culture that permits and seems to encourage sexual assault and abuse.” U.S. Capitol Police have asked Speier and her staff not to divulge the nature of the threat.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand blogged about military sexual assault on the Huffington Post Friday, writing in part:
I was outraged by the news earlier this week that the coordinator of the Army’s program to prevent sexual assault at Fort Hood in Texas is under investigation for abusive sexual contact. This follows last week’s revelation that the officer tasked with preventing sexual assault in the Air Force had been arrested for assaulting a woman in a parking lot. It is hard to believe this was the second such incident in just over a week. All of this comes as the Pentagon released its own study showing a dramatic increase in sexual assaults and unwanted sexual contact in the military from 19,000 in 2011 to 26,000 in 2012. Even more concerning: only 3,374 of those cases were reported, and less than 10% of those were brought to trial.
While I appreciate Secretary Hagel’s taking positive steps to enact reform, we need more than just words or retraining. It’s increasingly clear that the military justice system is not working for its victims and the chain of command is incapable of policing itself when it comes to a zero tolerance reality for these serious crimes. Enough is enough. It is time for Congress to move forward now with bold reform that puts victims first.
Another day, another military sexual assault scandal.
On Tuesday, a week after the Air Force announced its chief of sexual assault prevention had been arrested in Arlington, Va., on suspicion of drunkenly assaulting a woman in a parking lot, the Armyannounced that a sergeant first class who works in the sexual assault prevention office at Ft. Hood was under investigation for possible sexual assault and pandering.
Pandering — as in “pimping.” CNN reported that the sergeant is being investigated for possibly forcing a subordinate into prostitution, as well as sexually assaulting two others.
For the third time in two weeks, a U.S. military officer charged with his branch’s sexual assault prevention efforts is facing charges of misbehavior. Lt. Col. Darin Haas, the head of the sexual assault response program at Fort Campbell, Ky., turned himself in on Thursday for violating a restraining order in a domestic dispute with his ex-wife. According to a statement issued by the Army, Haas has been removed from his position.
“The one lesson they have learned out of Tailhook is try not to air your bad behavior because that does bring scrutiny,” Coughlin said. “Instead of saying, ‘This kind of misogynistic behavior is unprofessional and undermines the mission and stop it,’ they said, ‘Look, you guys got caught, be cool, keep it under wraps.’ ”
How else to explain the decision of Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the commander who dismissed the conviction of fellow pilot Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, who was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault at Aviano Air Base in Italy after crawling into bed with a sleeping houseguest, fondling and digitally penetrating her?
Or that a Navy officer in charge of sexual assault prevention has been arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman in an Arlington, Va., parking lot?
Or that a soldier who works in the sexual assault prevention office at Ft. Hood is being investigated for possibly assaulting subordinates and “pandering”?
Sig Christenson reports for San Antonio Express News:
A chief proponent of the STOP Act, which has languished since it was introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., in November 2011, said she saw a glimmer of hope in the president’s remarks. “There seems to be momentum,” said Nancy Parrish, founder of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders. “More members of the House and Senate are taking a stand on the issue. I have begun to let myself be hopeful that some variation of the STOP Act will become law.”
Chelsea J. Carter and Ashley Fantz report for CNN on POD Advocacy Committee members Jennifer Norris and Brian Lewis:
Former Navy Petty Officer Third Class Brian Lewis was stationed in Guam when he was raped, he told reporters. “After the rape, I was told by my command not to file a formal report with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service,” he said. “When I was reassigned to seek medical help, my psychiatrist told me that I was lying about my rape and diagnosed me with a personality disorder.” Lewis was discharged in August 2001.”I have been fighting to correct my record ever since,” he said.
Joseph Morton reports for World-Herald on Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish:
“The military justice system elevates an individual commander’s discretion over the rule of law,” Parrish said. “Until this individual discretion is removed from the process, justice will elude the victims.”
Kevin Miller reports for Portland Press Herald on Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee member Jennifer Norris:
Maine resident Jennifer Norris was among the sexual assault survivors who spoke during Thursday’s news conference…”Until we fix the system and make it safe for victims to report and remove command bias and conflict of interest from the process, and take reporting and adjudication out of the chain of command, the military will continue to be plagued by rape and sexual assault,” Norris said.
Two cases in as many weeks in which members of the armed forces tasked with preventing sexual assaults have themselves been charged with sex crimes, were the last straw for lawmakers. News of a third similar case broke shortly after the White House meeting when an Army officer who managed the sexual assault prevention office at Fort Campbell military base in Kentucky, was removed from his job.
Bill Briggs reports for NBC on Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee member Geri-Lynn Matthews:
Assaults on men have been “carefully hidden from the public and covered up,” not only by the victims themselves but also by superiors within the chain of command, contends the film’s producer and co-director Geri Lynn Weinstein-Matthews. “It’s time for men to have their voices heard. It’s time for them to stand up against these vicious attacks and against the deception of some of their commanding officers.”
Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee member Brian Lewis on NBC:
Read the article.
Thomas Roberts reports for MSNBC on Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee Member BriGette McCoy:
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and BriGette McCoy, a former army specialist who testified about being raped and sexually harassed, share their thoughts on new legislation being introduced to rewrite military law on sexual assaults.
Joyce Hackel reports for PRI on POD Advocacy Committee member Jennifer Norris:
US military leaders were summoned to the White House on Thursday for a crisis meeting about sexual assault in the Armed Forces. Sgt. Jennifer Norris knows the issue well. She’s a veteran of the US Air Force and is now a member of Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee.
The nation’s highest military appeals court already is reviewing several cases handled by a Marine Corps judge who, citing the priorities of the commandant, called sexual assault defendants “scumbags” who “need to be crushed.”
The past few weeks Protect Our Defenders has been working around the clock to respond to the onslaught of developments regarding military sexual assault.
This week’s New York Times video features Protect Our Defenders. Watch our Advisory and Advocacy Committee members speak out about our military’s long-standing problem with violent sexual crimes:
At Protect Our Defenders’ suggestion, Congress established an independent panel to examine the military’s current system for investigating, prosecuting and adjudicating sexual assault.
Congresswoman Jackie Speier re-introduced the STOP Act to remove the reporting, investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of sexual assault from the chain of command. Our Policy Advisor Miranda Petersen and Advocacy Committee Member Jeremiah Arbogast spoke in support of the bill at a press conference in April.
We launched an initiative to expose the ongoing scandal at Aviano Air Base, where Lt. General Franklin overturned the sexual assault conviction of Lt. Colonel Wilkerson. We protested with the family of Kim Hanks in Tucson—where Wilkerson is now assigned—to demand the Air Force dismiss both men. The same week we launched a petition calling for their removal, which has already garnered over 7,000 signatures.
Protect Our Defenders helped expose actions by General Susan Helms, who, similar to Franklin, overturned a jury conviction in a sexual assault case without explanation.
We are shining the spotlight on personality disorder misdiagnoses. Look for our Op-Ed in the San Antonio Express this upcoming Sunday, May 19th.
Protect Our Defenders is partnering with the YouTube WIGS Channel, which is airing their second season of Lauren, a show about military sexual assault.
Arlette Saenz reports for ABC on POD Advocacy Committee member Jennifer Norris:
“These are tears of hope,” Jennifer Norris, who is retired from the Air Force and was a victim of sexual assault during her time in the service, said as she cried. “I’ve never had this much hope in my life.”
Meredith Clark reports for MSNBC on Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee member Brian Lewis:
Brian Lewis, a former Navy Petty Officer, was accused of fabricating his rape, diagnosed with a personality disorder, and discharged from the military, leaving him ineligible for G.I. Bill benefits. “We are not unpatriotic for bringing this to light,” Lewis said. “The military betrayed us.”
Tom Vanden Brook and David M. Jackson report for USA TODAY:
“The issue of sexual assault in our armed forces undermines that trust,” Obama said. “So not only is it a crime, not only is it shameful and disgraceful, but it also is going to make and has made the military less effective than it can be. And as such, it is dangerous to our national security.”
They’ve had decades since Tailhook to sort this out. The US Congress needs to take it seriously and step in, not just for ensuring the rights of any future alleged victims, but as a matter of preserving morale for the women and men who have been silent about a culture of harassment for too long.
Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor report for The Huffington Post:
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., planned to introduce legislation Thursday taking top commanders out of the process of deciding whether a sexual misconduct case goes to trial. For sexual offenses with authorized sentences of more than one year in confinement – akin to felonies in the civilian judicial system – that decision would rest instead with officers at ranks as low as colonel who are seasoned trial counsels with prosecutorial experience.
`”What we need to do is change the system so victims know that they can receive justice,” Gillibrand said Thursday on CBS “This Morning.”
*Military sexual assault survivors and Protect Our Defenders President, Nancy Parrish are available for interviews.
**If you would like remarks from Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Committee Members (Brian Lewis and Jennifer Norris) who will be speaking at Thursday’s press conference, please email: email@example.com.
PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS APPLAUDS BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION TO REFORM MILITARY JUSTICE SYSTEM
Senate-House Bill Would Remove the Chain of Command From Decision Making Over Whether Serious Crimes Are Prosecuted
Military sexual assault incidents skyrocketed 34.5% — from 19,300 assaults in 2011 to 26,300 in 2012; Reporting rate drops to 9.8%; Conviction rate dropped to 0.9 percent in 2012; 47 % indicated fear of retaliation or reprisal as a reason for not reporting
WASHINGTON, DC – On Thursday, Protect Our Defenders and military rape survivors, TSgt Jennifer Norris, USAF Retired and Brian Lewis, Former Petty Officer Third Class, US Navy were proud to stand with U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Representatives Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Al Franken (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representatives Richard Hanna (D-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to announce new comprehensive bipartisan, bicameral legislation to reform the military justice system.
Irin Carmon reports for Salon on Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish:
Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, said that some cases are already tried in civilian criminal courts if a service member reports to the police instead of the military chain of command, “and the sky doesn’t fall.” She added, “It’s ultimately up to the military leadership, if they decide this is a moment they want to seize to fix this. Or whether they will still treat it as a public relations problem.”
President Barack Obama will meet with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other leaders of the U.S. military on Thursday to discuss their efforts to stop sexual assaults in the armed forces, a White House spokeswoman said.
Juana Summers, Stephanie Gaskell and Darren Samuelsohn report for Politico:
“There’s been 25 years of scandal, of self-investigation by military leaders offering half-hearted, half-measured reform Band-Aids, but nothing addressing the core problem,” [Parrish] said. “Military leaders are still treating this as a public relations problem.”
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Contact: Bethany Lesser (202) 224-3873
GILLIBRAND, COLLINS, BOXER, JOHANNS, BENISHEK, GABBARD, BEGICH, BLUMENTHAL, COONS, FRANKEN, HIRONO, SINEMA, JOINED BY MALE AND FEMALE SERVICE MEMBERS VICTIMIZED BY SEXUAL ASSAULT TO ANNOUNCE BICAMERAL LEGISLATION REFORMING MILITARY JUSTICE SYSTEM
Bipartisan Senate-House Bill Creates Transformational Change Needed for Real Accountability In Military Justice System by Removing the Chain of Command From Decision Making Over Whether Serious Crimes Are Prosecuted, Also Reforms Article 60 So Commanders Cannot Overturn Jury Verdicts for Serious Crimes
According to DOD Estimates, More Than 26,000 Incidents of Sexual Assault or Unwanted Sexual Contact occurred in 2012; Overall Reports Increased 37%; Sexual Assault Crimes Increased 6% to 3,374 Reports Only 238 Convictions
Washington D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Representatives Dan Benishek (R-MI) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Al Franken (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will be joined TOMORROW, THURSDAY MAY 16TH at 10:30amby male and female victims of sexual assault in the military and organizations who assist victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) to announce new bipartisan, bicameral legislation that would reform the military justice system by removing the prosecution of all crimes punishable by one year or more in confinement from the chain of command, except crimes that are uniquely military in nature, such as disobeying orders or going Absent Without Leave.
This bipartisan, bicameral legislation would for the first time remove the decision whether to take a case to trial or general court-martial completely out of the chain of command and give that discretion to experienced trial counsel with prosecutorial experience with a pay grade of O-6 (Colonel or Navy Captain), or higher. The legislation also codifies Secretary Hagel’s proposed changes to the UCMJ’s Article 60.
Gopal Ratnam and David Lerman report for Bloomberg Businessweek:
“These latest allegations of criminal behavior by yet another sexual-assault prevention and response coordinator are appalling and show the need for fundamental reforms,” Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, a victims’ support group, said in a statement. “The Pentagon is responsible for failing to effectively govern its personnel.”
Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, also pointed to a need for large scale reform. “The problems are so long standing and pervasive that, at a minimum, it constitutes gross negligence on the part of the leadership and actually reflects, albeit informal, countenancing of a culture of violent abuse,” she said in a statement.
Jeremy Herb reports for The Hill on Protect Our Defenders President Nancy Parrish:
“We are encouraged by Senator Reid’s remarks,” Nancy Parrish, president of Protect our Defenders, an advocacy group that fights on behalf of military sexual assault victims, said in a statement to Raw Story. “It’s time to fix this rotten system. It’s unAmerican. Hopefully, we have reached a tipping point. We now have a cadre of members in Congress that are fighting for fundamental reform. There is reason to be hopeful.”