PRESS RELEASE: Open Letter to Senator McCaskill From Sexual Assault Survivor Ask Her to Reconsider Opposition to Independent & Impartial Justice System
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 23, 2013
*** PRESS RELEASE ***
OPEN LETTER TO SEN. MCCASKILL FROM SEXUAL ASSAUL SURVIVOR IN ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH ASKS HER TO RECONSIDER OPPOSITION TO INDEPENDENT AND IMPARTIAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Protect Our Defenders Advisory Board Member and St. Louis survivor, Terri Odom asks: “Senator, given your years as a public prosecutor, you must know the value of impartiality in these cases”
Washington DC - On Tuesday, Terri Odom, a Missourian and Protect Our Defenders Advisory Board Member, whose support was featured in Sen. McCaskill’s 2012 campaignagainst Todd Akin asked the Senator from Missouri to reconsider her position and stand with her, a military rape survivor. An open letter from Terri Odom was published in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Senator, given your years as a public prosecutor, you must know the value of impartiality in these cases.
Senator McCaskill, I am a great admirer and a loyal supporter of yours. In a sense, you saved my life. For many years I made no progress fighting to receive my military benefits and medical treatment. That was until you became a Senator and stepped in to support me. As you know, during your 2012 race against Todd Akin, I, along with other rape victims, proudly supported you. I shared my story on your campaign website. Senator, you have been a champion on this issue. Yet, you are wrong regarding the reforms most urgently required to end the crisis of military rape,” said Terri Odom, a Protect Our Defenders Advisory Board Member [Read the full open letter on A-7 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking here].
The open letter from Terri Odom is part of a larger online effort (see Twitter campaign andonline petition) launched on Tuesday by Protect Our Defenders asking Sen. McCaskill to support victims and not the status quo.
Nearly half of her fellows Senators, Republicans and Democrats, have already agreed that prosecution decisions must be removed from the chain of command. Over 50 percent of victims report the perpetrator is of higher rank and 25 percent of victims report the perpetrator is in their chain of command. The bipartisan Military Justice Improvement Act, which would create an independent and impartial justice system for military sexual assault cases and other serious crimes introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), currently has 41 senators supporting the legislation. Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) joined a growing bipartisan coalition of Senators supporting common sense reforms for our failed military justice system.
“We are incredibly proud of Terri and the work she continues to do on behalf of victims of military sexual assault,” said Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders. ”It is incomprehensible to victims that the Senator from Missouri would stand in the way of reforms that survivors themselves have been calling for. We ask Senator McCaskill please reconsider and stand with victims and not the military leaders that have failed for decades to address the epidemic of military sexual assault. They have had long enough to fix the problem. If this crisis is to be solved victims voices must be heard.”
The Pentagon estimates that last year alone, there were more than 26,000 instances of rape and other sexual crimes in the U.S. military. Only a tiny fraction of these perpetrators faced justice. Most troubling is that 90 percent of victims never come forward because they are afraid of retaliation or have seen what happens to those few who do report. Alarmingly, 60 percent of victims who reported said that they were retaliated against. Despite twenty years of purported zero tolerance by the Pentagon and ineffective “reforms” by Congress and military leaders, the crisis persists and grows worse every day that our elected leaders support the status quo and do not address the fundamental issues fueling the crisis: command bias and conflict of interest.
Open Letter from Terri Odom in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch [A-7]:
Sen. McCaskill: Please reconsider and stand with me, a military rape survivor
I am one of your most loyal and active supporters, but I am compelled to urge you to reverse course and support meaningful, fundamental reform to end the epidemic of sexual assault in our military.
My name is Terri Odom. St. Louis is my home. Twenty-six years ago, while I was in uniform serving our country, I was violently raped and left for dead by a superior. Because I insisted on reporting the crime, because I wouldn’t keep quiet, I was threatened with arrest and then discharged from the military. While this happened over twenty years ago, it feels like this happened just yesterday because my chain of command failed me and I never received justice. Sadly, this trend continues and for many service members, it did just happen yesterday.
I still grieve over the loss of a career serving my country, simply because I tried to report a violent crime.
Today, I volunteer at our local Veterans Administration (VA), helping those hurting souls who have been raped or sexually assaulted – who are often blamed and punished by their command and have nowhere to turn. Despite twenty years of reforms promised by Congress and military leaders, the crisis persists and even grows.
Almost daily we are hearing of more and more horrifying scandals of sexual assault in our military.
There is enormous human damage from the epidemic of military sexual assault.
As you well know, the Pentagon estimates that last year alone, there were more than 26,000 instances of rape and other sexual crimes in the U.S. military. Only a tiny fraction of these perpetrators faced justice. Most troubling is that 90 percent of victims never come forward because they are afraid of retaliation or have seen what happens to those few who report. Alarmingly, 60 percent of victims who reported said that they were retaliated against.
I know the military leaders tell you that they can and will handle this problem. We have heard this same song of “zero tolerance” for decades, although to little effect. In that time the epidemic has grown worse, not better.
The broken military justice system and culture can be fixed, but in order to do that our legislators must be willing to address the fundamental issue: victims are afraid to come forward because they do not trust their superiors to do the right thing.
Senator, given your years as a public prosecutor, you must know the value of impartiality in these cases.
How can you possibly be against the creation of a professional, independent, impartial military justice system? Our men and women in uniform deserve a justice system equal to that enjoyed by the citizens of the country that they protect. Your opposition to date has been incredibly difficult for me and other survivors to comprehend. For those who have been raped or assaulted, the current system all too often precludes justice and delivers only retribution, destruction of our careers, and rejection by our military families. While higher-ranking perpetrators are protected, lower ranking victims are persecuted. How can you be opposed to empowering a professionally trained, independent prosecutor – outside the chain of command but, still in the military – to determine whether a case should be prosecuted?
Senator McCaskill, I am a great admirer and a loyal supporter of yours. In a sense, you saved my life. For many years I made no progress fighting to receive my military benefits and medical treatment. That was until you became a Senator and stepped in to support me. As you know, during your 2012 race against Todd Akin, I, along with other rape victims, proudly supported you. I shared my story on your campaign website. Senator, you have been a champion on this issue. Yet, you are wrong regarding the reforms most urgently required to end the crisis of military rape.
The military has had decades to address and solve this problem. They have not. It has only gotten worse.
On a recent trip to Washington, DC, to talk with legislators, a good friend (who is also a fellow survivor), and I sat in a hotel room and wept as my mother watched survivor stories. It broke my heart to see my mother with tears of pain. When she watched my story, she said, “Honey, I am so sorry! I should have been there to protect you!” “No, Mom!” I said, “I was in the U.S. Navy. My job was to protect you and all of our freedoms.”
She was in shock that that the chain of command is still judge and jury on sexual assault cases. Over 50 percent of victims report the perpetrator is of higher rank and 25 percent of victims report the perpetrator is in their chain of command.
Sen. McCaskill please reconsider your position and join your colleagues in supporting the creation of a professional, independent, and impartial military justice system. U.S. service men and women deserve a justice system equal to the one provided to civilians they protect. Without your support, perpetrators may continue to go free; victims will be too afraid to come forward; and our military readiness will suffer.
Please join the movement to ensure survivors of rape and sexual assault in the military receive justice at ProtectOurDefenders.com.
[VIDEO] Protect Our Defenders: Watch Terri’s Story
Local veteran works to change the military’s response to sexual assault cases
Rape victims advocate on Akin: It was a huge kick to the gut
Victims’ advocacy group goes after McCaskill on sexual assault bill
The Nation: Temperatures Rising Over Military Sexual Assaults
Baltimore Sun: Military sexual assaults: reforms not dead yet http://www.baltimoresun.com/
Protect Our Defenders Policy Paper: Nine Roadblocks to Justice
Politico: Rare bipartisan moment over military sexual assault
Protect Our Defenders sets story straight: Dept. of Defense definition of “unwanted sexual contact” does not include sexual harassment http://www.
Politico: Kirsten Gillibrand’s slow climb to 51 votes
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/
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.
Communications Director | Protect Our Defenders