Protect Our Defenders Testifies to Congress on Lackland Sexual Abuse Scandal – 01/23/13

Watch the TSgt Jennifer Norris Testify at the Lackland Hearing below:

Watch full hearing video @ HASC website

Listen to remarks from Protect Our Defenders Lackland Media Briefing:

Statement by TSgt Jennifer Norris, USAF Retired
Before the U.S. House Armed Services Committee
Review of sexual misconduct by basic training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base
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It is with a heavy heart that I sit here today. Because, I am not only speaking for myself but I am speaking for thousands and thousands of male and female survivors, both military and civilian, whose lives have been forever altered by the military’s sexual assault epidemic, a culture that punishes the victim and a broken military justice system.

My name is Tsgt Jennifer Norris; I am an Air Force veteran, wife to my dear husband, Lee, national advocate for the Military Rape Crisis Center, and Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Board member. Protect Our Defenders is a place for survivors to build community, amplify our voices, provide resources, support one another and take collective action.

I want to recognize the service members who have not survived due to non-combat deaths, murder, and suicide and their families who are still waiting for answers.

Nearly six months ago, I stood outside these doors with fellow veterans and survivors, many of whom are here with me in this room today. We delivered a petition asking this Committee to hold an “open and complete” hearing into the criminal scandal at Lackland Air Force Base. Back then there were 30 victims. Six months later now there are at least 59 known female and male victims. Since that day in August, according to Department of Defense estimates, roughly ten thousand more men and women in uniform have been assaulted. This is no longer a “silent epidemic.”

We are hopeful, as we wrap up the day, that this hearing becomes the beginning of fundamental reform to change a military culture and fix the broken military justice system. It is our hope that this will be the first in a series of hearings to fully explore the reasons why Lackland and similar abuses are occurring and what must be done to prevent it from happening in the future. The Committee should hear from current Lackland victims and from independent experts on issues regarding victim treatment and the military justice system. The Lackland scandal must become more than another footnote in this tragic history.

As the hometown paper of Lackland AFB, the San Antonio Express-News, aptly put it, when writing about this hearing, “criminal trials correctly examine the acts of individuals. Congressional hearings look at the systemic failings that trials cannot and reinforce the concept of civilian oversight. Both are needed.”

Core issues must be addressed. The military justice system elevates an individual’s discretion over the rule of law. The system is encumbered with personal bias, conflicts of interest and abuse of authority. The cycle of repeated scandals, self-investigations, and ineffective reforms – must be broken.

Because no victims from the current scandal have been permitted to testify, I will share one of their stories to illustrate the scope of this epidemic — this is from the San Antonio Express’ Sig Christenson and Karisa King.

“A young Air Force recruit who said her basic training instructor sexually assaulted her testified….after two months of obeying his orders, she was too frightened to protest his advances in a dark supply room.

‘You’re in the worst position that you could think of. He’s your instructor,’ she said. ‘When you’re in a position like that, you don’t know what to think.’

The defense…stressed that Airman 1 never tried to stop the sexual encounter with Estacio, and one of the attorneys, Capt. Jerrold Black, asked the woman if she resisted Estacio’s advances.

‘I was too scared to,” she replied. “Sometimes when somebody’s too scared to talk, does that mean they want to do something?’

A military judge…found Staff Sgt. Kwinton Estacio not guilty of sexually assaulting [the] trainee…allowing the basic training instructor to face a maximum one-year prison sentence — rather than the 30 years prosecutors initially sought.”

Airman 1’s story is very similar to my story. I was 24 years old when I joined the military and also joined the ranks of the over half a million veterans who are victims of sexual assault in our military. I was a small town girl who had never been harmed and basically had an idyllic childhood. I did not know that this kind of behavior existed in the world, let alone in our beloved military.

I was chemically restrained and raped by my recruiter and sexually assaulted by my technical school instructor at Keesler Air Force Base. I did not report these incidents; I just sucked it up and kept my mouth shut. Why? Because I watched an airman, who is today one of my best friends, get swiftly booted out simply because she reported that one of her instructors made derogatory remarks to her during class. This girl was 19 years old. The military training managers engaged in what appeared to be a witch-hunt and looked for anything and everything to kick her out. In the end, they were successful. Today she has severe PTSD from that experience.
As I continued on with my career with the Maine Air National Guard, I found myself in an eerily similar situation to the one I faced with the recruiter who set up the attack and raped me. My NCOIC began assigning me jobs that would isolate me so that he could make his move. He would give me the assignment then show up unexpectedly to “check in on me,” but instead forced himself on me every chance he got.

Eventually, I did report these crimes. My commander did not have the authority to pursue charges against the recruiter and my technical training instructor. He did pursue charges against my NCOIC and his friend. They were charged with sexual assault. The day before the Administrative Hearing the perpetrators plead guilty. The punishment imposed by the Commander was that both were permitted to resign honorably and since my NCOIC had 18 years of service he was allowed to stay in for two more years so he could reach his twenty years. Both predators eventually received their full military benefits.

Meanwhile, my Commander was promoted and a new Commander was in charge. My NCOIC and his friend and their friends began an effort to discredit and retaliate against me. I went to a new squadron, but I was labeled as a troublemaker and my career was over.

We are hurting ourselves and society by not dealing with the fact that the current military environment provides a target rich opportunity for predators in the ranks. The predators often appear to be “great troops,” high ranking, and very charismatic and manipulative, but that is only a part of the problem.

The military justice system is broken. In my work as an advocate, it breaks my heart to see this same kind of behavior in 2013 that existed when I joined the service. I know how painful it is to be violated by another and then disregarded and thrown away, as if you are the troublemaker. It was something I never expected after reporting a crime, a felony crime. The country is loosing good and valuable troops.
And we all know commanders at all levels are just as capable as their juniors of committing these offenses. Thirty-nine percent of female victims report that their perpetrator was of a higher rank and 23% report it was someone within their chain of command. We have seen too many instances where a bad command at all levels can and does end a good soldier’s career. How many cases of sexual assault did General Jeffrey Sinclair, who faces a court-martial for allegedly sexually assaulting his subordinates, sweep under the rug?

And, good commanders are being placed in impossible positions. They are not trained in the modus operandi of predators, they often fall victim to their manipulation, as they are often regarded as “great troops.” This often results in commanders ignoring the problem, thereby punishing the victim. And when victims are punished, perpetrators go free and everyone knows it to be the case — trust, the essential ingredient to an effective, functioning military, is undermined.

The Air Force’s official report on Lackland, as in other reports of previous scandals, indicates there is a failure of leadership. How many times will Congress hear from the military that its leadership has failed, before Congress institutes fundamental change to address this crisis? Meanwhile, people are suffering, people are dying, and people are becoming disabled due to the prolonged exposure to the abuse, harassment, sexual violence and retaliation by their own military family, at all levels in the chain of command.

As the scandal at Lackland continues to unfold and the Air Force’s report makes clear, it is far too easy for an 18-year-old kid that joins the Air Force to be sexually abused by the one person in their life that has the most control over them. MTIs use a directive training method and that means trainees don’t have an opinion. They must do as they are told; as Airman 1’s Lackland experience that I shared with you highlights. That is beat into your head from the very beginning. I cannot imagine, based on my experience with predators, how trapped I would have felt if my basic training instructor abused his power and threatened me with the fact that he could end my career with the stroke of a pen. Abuse of authority exists throughout all levels of command. The trainee instructor dynamic at Lackland is but one example.

And how many of the commanders above these Lackland MTIs were complicit in turning a blind eye or simply going along to get along? How long did it last? The self-investigations always stop short. Why didn’t the Air Force interview victims to determine if any of them tried to report or feared doing so and if so why?
I know that many of those Lackland victims wanted to protect their careers and did not believe they would receive a fair shake, so they remained silent. We are speaking for them. And, we are speaking for the thousands of survivors who feel the same way that I do and will continue to speak out and mobilize until individual discretion, bias and conflict of interest embedded in the military justice system is removed from the reporting, investigation and prosecution of these violent crimes.
We know all too well that this isn’t just an Air Force problem. This is an Armed Services problem. Congress has the responsibility. Congress established the Uniform Military Code of Justice. And as a democratic institution, you have the sacred responsibility of civilian oversight of the Department of Defense, on behalf of the people who elected you.

We need you to face this systemic crisis within our military and fundamentally fix it.

As a survivor, an advocate, and an activist, I regularly see well-intentioned reforms fall short. Laws passed by Congress are ignored or inconsistently applied, unnecessarily encumbered or not implemented. Recently the Military Rape Crisis Center and Protect Our Defenders worked on a case of a young airman who tried to obtain an Expedited Transfer after two assaults. For eight months, she and her parents repeatedly asked for a transfer. They were told there was no such thing, not eligible, then denied because of med hold. It was only granted after intervention by a Senator and then a member of this committee, to simply follow a law passed by Congress.

Restricted reports were legislated in the hope that more victims would confidentially come forward to receive needed medical and psychological care. No criminal investigation is initiated and no perpetrator is named. Far too often, we have been told that confidentiality is not maintained, the victim does not receive adequate support or care, and is still subject to retaliation. According to the DoD’s own data 47% of service members are afraid to report, because of what happens to those who report. And of course the unintended consequence of this policy is that perpetrators remain free to repeat the crime. And when they retire these predators come to live in your neighborhoods.

The Wingman or “Battle Buddy” policy that was part of the Air Force’s recommendations for fixing the Lackland scandal places the burden on the potential victim. This policy requires trainees of both genders to be accompanied at all times. The way it is structured, it becomes a vehicle for holding victims accountable for having been attacked. Air Force Sgt. Jennifer Smith, who had gone to the gym alone to exercise when she was assaulted, did not report the crime at the time. According to her administrative complaint, copies of which you all were given, “she knew that the Air Force would blame her, the victim, and reprimand her for not having a “Battle Buddy” with her at all times.” We have heard many similar reports from other survivors.

According to victims and their families, victims’ confidential communications with psychotherapists and other medical personnel, and their medical records, are regularly inappropriately disclosed. Their right to legal counsel provided by S1565b passed by Congress December 31, 2011 (NDAA 2012) was intended to provide legal assistance to sexual assault victims to protect their privacy and privileges in courts-martial proceedings. But currently S1565b is being misinterpreted and some JAGS are refusing to provide assistance to help victims protect their privacy rights. The Air Force recently announced it intends to correct this and provide legal assistance to victims, but there is push back from the other services. It has even been alleged that the law was only intended to assist the victim in writing the rapist out of their will or to break a lease to allow a victim to move away from the rapist.

This is clearly not what Congress intended. And the Air Force’s new Special Victims Counsel (SVC) program to provide legal aid to victims is important but it will be dependent on a particular military judge’s support to permit a SVC to act on a victim’s behalf. And the Navy VWAP (Victim Witness Advocacy Program) has good protections in place but many trial shops fail to use it.

Defense Secretary Panetta and many Secretaries before him have declared a policy of “zero tolerance,” yet recent DoD actions challenge that notion.

In December 2011, a federal judge dismissed a class action lawsuit (Cioca v. Rumsfeld) filed on behalf of 28 assault victims against the military for failure to protect them, provide justice and for the retaliation they suffered. The judge agreed with the military defense attorney’s argument that “the alleged harms are incident to plaintiffs’ (victims) military service.” Had I known that rape is dismissed by the military as an “occupational hazard,” I would not have joined.
It is a national security risk not to do something about the sexual assault epidemic. It adversely affects unit cohesion and undermines mission readiness. People’s lives, livelihoods, dreams, and careers are being thwarted, at the discretion of one person in the chain of command. Is it too much to ask for some checks and balances? Our Constitution guarantees Americans basic human rights. These rights should be extended to our military personnel.

Last year, Secretary Panetta opined that the core of the problem is a lack of convictions, which he says, “must be improved.” Yet, in September 2012, the Secretary proposed the President sign an Executive Order, which would have effectively eviscerated the Military’s Rape Shield Rule. The rule (MRE412) as currently applied is deficient in protecting victims. Protect Our Defenders took action. We wrote the President and we wrote the Secretary asking him to rescind the request. We subsequently learned it was not included in the order, but why is it that we must remain ever vigilant to protect the few rights that exist for victims in the military?

Over twenty years ago, In September 1992, according to the LA Times, “several lawmakers” in response to the Tailhook scandal “proposed stripping the armed services of their role in probing sexual molestation cases.” The patience and deference that congress and the American public have shown the Defense Department in giving it the opportunity to fix this problem, has come at great cost to our service members, veterans and ultimately to our society.

I loved serving our country. Like so many service members who are victims of this violent crime, I did not want my career ended. We ask that in 2013 you provide more oversight and leadership and no more half-measures or empty promises. The military leadership has failed me and too many of our daughters, sons, husbands, wives, friends and neighbors who only wanted to serve our country.

This crisis cannot be effectively addressed incrementally. Retired Brigadier General Loree Sutton recently said, “The only credible solution is an independent special victims unit completely outside the (unit) chain of command, under professional civilian oversight.” We agree.

We ask you, as our elected representatives, please don’t let this wait one day more. God bless America and our brave men and women in uniform.


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Remarks of Terri Odom, Advocacy Board Member
Press Conference – January 23, 2013
Hello and welcome; my name is Terri Odom. I became an active member of Protect Our Defenders because the military leadership, my chain of command and our government failed me. I am a veteran and a survivor of military sexual assault. I would like to acknowledge the survivor community here today, along with the members of our Advisory and Advocacy Boards.

Protect Our Defenders is a place for survivors to build community, amplify our voices, help one another through our peer support and other programs and take collective action.

I stand here surrounded by some of the most courageous people I have ever known. POD is unique in that we are survivor driven. For me personally; POD is what some refer to as “A Game Changer.” When I first shared my story of my rape and torture while serving in the US Navy, I was broken. I felt as though I had no path, nor purpose. But I am back! I am once again serving my country…Protect Our Defenders gave me support, vision and (Me) back!

Ten months ago I was humbled to be appointed by The St Louis VAMC Director to start up a Pilot Program at our local VAMC to help implement an MST program and to assist all of our veteran population to work with our staff. I never quit on the military! They quit on me! But thanks to some amazing people and POD, I am not just breathing! But Living.

We are here today because 5 months ago, Navy veteran Paula Coughlin stepped forward and led our effort to demand congress investigate the largest military sexual abuse scandal in our nation’s history at Lackland Air Force Base. It’s my honor to introduce her here today – Paula Coughlin.


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Remarks by Paula Coughlin, retired US Navy
Lackland Abuse Scandal and Congressional Hearing
Press Conference, Rayburn House Office Building– January 23, 2013
My name is Paula Coughlin, former LT, US Navy, and a member of Protect Our Defender’s Advocacy Board. We represent more than 500K veterans who are sexual assault victims and those currently serving, all who have no voice in rectifying the systemic abuses they have suffered in the military.

Twenty-one years ago, I was sexually assaulted while attending a TH naval aviation convention. When I realized the Navy was covering up the abuse that occurred at the Navy sanctioned event, I filed a formal complaint — no one was prosecuted. I was given assurances from the President of the United States down through the ranks to my own immediate commander that no woman or man would again suffer the abuses I endured.

Since that event, military leadership, my chain of command and our government has failed me and countless others. To date the Department of Defense and Congress have failed to effectively examine and eradicate the epidemic of violent assaults.

Since Tailhook we have seen repeated scandals, military leadership investigating itself, congressional hearings, reforms announced, training days ordered, laws passed, and yet today more violent crimes are perpetrated with lower prosecution rates than in the civilian sector.

Fortunately, with me here today are committed service members that have worked past the pain and disappointment to offer real solutions to ending this criminal dynamic between rapist and the chain of command. We stand united to solve this problem. Unfortunately, because of restrictions imposed by the HASC leadership, you may not hear those answers today. In fact, the whole scope of the problem may be sidestepped again.

But, this is the time and place to confront the central issues related to ending this crisis.

Twenty-one years ago, I spoke to Congress, and again, five months ago, with fellow veterans and survivors Jessica Hinves, Jennifer Norris, Jenny McClendon and Brian Lewis — we came to our nation’s capitol to demand the House Armed Services Committee open an investigation into what has become the largest military sexual abuse scandal in history, at Lackland Air Force Base. We delivered a petition signed by over 13,000 supporters.

In response, Chairman McKeon promised an “open and complete” hearing. The hearing you will see today is neither. This hearing is woefully lacking in relevant victim testimony and expert military justice recommendations that Protect Our Defenders has provided to the Chair over the past several months.

Real and immediate changes must made by this committee by refining the UCMJ to improve the prosecution of violent criminals, and start providing real support to all victims, not crush them with reprisals and career-ending mental health diagnosis. Retired Brigadier General, Loree Sutton recently said: “The only credible solution is an independent special victims unit completely outside the (unit) chain of command, under professional civilian oversight.” We agree. The answers are here in front of you.

The old military adage applies here: if you’re not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. This committee hearing will reveal which side of the equation Congress is on.

We continue to speak the truth of sexual assault in the military and press the solution forward — so that no other man or woman suffers the abuses we endure even today.

The question is today: who is listening?



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Remarks by Brian Lewis, Navy Veteran
Lackland Abuse Scandal and Congressional Hearing
Press Conference, Rayburn House Office Building– January 23, 2013
Hello, my name is Brian Lewis. I’m a veteran of the Navy, a sexual assault survivor and Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Board Member.

For the past several months, Protect our Defenders has had constructive conversations with the House Armed Services Committee staff regarding a number of issues including our proposal to establish a commission to modernize the UCMJ pertaining to sexual assault and related issues. A version of it was enacted in the fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and signed into law. And we look forward to continuing to work with the committee.

In September, Chairman McKeon also promised he would hold (quote) “open and complete” hearings into the scandal at Lackland as a result of the Protect Our Defenders petition we delivered to him nearly 6 months ago.

However, the hearing taking place today falls far short of that commitment.

Recently, we learned that three male airmen are also victims of the scandal at Lackland. This comes as no surprise, because the DoD’s own data states that out of the estimated 19,000 sexual assault victims every year in the military, over 10,000 are men. This means approximately 53% of victims every year are men. Their voices are not being heard today because our request to expand the hearing panel to include male voices was denied.

The issue of male rape in the military must be brought out into the open. There is much work to be done. And we will continue to fight for justice for male victims and survivors. We applaud and support Advocacy Board member, Geri Lynn Matthews who is the wife of rape survivor, Michael Matthews who was featured in the “Invisible War” and director, Michael Miller are working hard to insure our voices are heard. Their film, “Justice Denied” will bring more attention to male survivors who, for far too long have been denied a voice.

We hope that this is the beginning of the Lackland investigation and the serious reform we have been promised and not just another footnote in the sad history of our elected leaders ignoring their responsibility to honor and protect our men and women in uniform.


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 23, 2013

Contact: Brian Purchia, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*Prior to the 10 AM Lackland hearing, Protect Our Defenders will hold a media briefing with military sexual assault survivors in the Rayburn House Office Building (Room 2456) at 9AM.

*** PRESS RELEASE ***
MILITARY SEXUAL ASSAULT SURVIVORS CALL ON CONGRESS TO TAKE REPORTING AND INVESTIGATION OF SEXUAL ASSAULTS OUT OF THE CHAIN OF COMMAND IN 2013

TSgt Jennifer Norris, USAF Ret, Tailhook whistleblower, Paula Coughlin-Puopolo and other military sexual assault survivors ask Chairman of House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon to hold series of hearings, to fully explore the reasons Lackland and similar abuses are occurring and what must be done to prevent them

Washington DC – TSgt Jennifer Norris, USAF Ret., a Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Board member, national victim advocate with the Military Rape Crisis Center and sexual abuse survivor testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on Wednesday on the ongoing sexual abuse scandal at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. Today, the Air Force veteran asked Congress that this be the first in a series of hearings, to fully explore the reasons Lackland and similar abuses are occurring and what must be done to prevent them.

“Core issues must be addressed. The Committee should hear from current Lackland victims and from independent experts on issues of victim treatment and the military justice system. The cycle of repeated scandals, self-investigations, and ineffective reforms – must be broken in 2013,” said TSgt Jennifer Norris, USAF Ret. “The Air Force’s Lackland report and previous reports indicate there is a failure of leadership. How many more times must Congress hear this from the military before enacting fundamental reform?”

Protect Our Defenders pressed Congress to include Lackland active duty personnel who are victims, as witnesses, and veterans who survived sexual assault, including male survivors, along with independent experts in victim treatment and the military justice system. Only one of our recommendations was included. The House Armed Services has promised to hold “open and complete” hearings about the Lackland scandal.

“Real and immediate changes must made by this Committee by refining the UCMJ to improve the prosecution of violent criminals, and start providing real support to all victims, not crush them with reprisals and career-ending mental health diagnosis,” said Tailhook whistleblower and Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Board Member, Paula-Coughlin-Puopolo before the hearing. “Retired Brigadier General, Loree Sutton recently said: ‘The only credible solution is an independent special victims unit completely outside the (unit) chain of command, under professional civilian oversight.’ We agree. The answers are here in front of you.”

Thirty-nine percent of female victims report their perpetrator was of higher rank and 23% report it was someone in their chain of command. According to DoD’s own data, 47% of service members are too afraid to report their assaults, because of what happens to those who do. This isn’t just an Air Force problem — this is an Armed Services problem. Congress established the Uniform Military Code of Justice (UCMJ) and has the responsibility of civilian oversight.

“More than twenty years ago, according to the LA Times, ‘several lawmakers’ in response to the Tailhook scandal ‘proposed stripping the armed services of their role in probing sexual molestation cases,’ said TSgt Norris. “The deference and patience that Congress has shown DoD to end this epidemic has come at great cost to our service members, our security and ultimately our society. I ask you, as our elected representatives, please don’t let this wait.”

In August 2012, Jennifer went to our nation’s capital ahead of a closed-door congressional hearing on the criminal scandal at Lackland with Tailhook whistleblower, Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, fellow military sexual assault survivors Brian Lewis, former sailor Jenny McClendon and Air Force veteran Jessica Hinves. Jessica was featured in the Oscar nominated film, The Invisible War. Her assailant was awarded the ‘Airman of the Year.” The veterans delivered more than 10,000 petitions to the Chairman of House Armed Services Committee, Rep. McKeon demanding an open hearing and investigation into Lackland.

In July 2012, Paula started the online Lackland petition on Causes.com and Protectourdefenders.com demanding Rep. McKeon open a congressional hearing about Lackland. Then there were 30 victims. Now, there are at least 59, female and male. The Air Force’s new Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh III has told Congress, “what we have been doing is not working” to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military.

Seventy-eight members of Congress called on Rep. Buck McKeon to open a Lackland hearing. The military estimates that there are 19,000 military rapes and sexual assaults a year, but only 3,200 victims reported the attacks and out of those only 191 cases resulted in court martial conviction. The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that there are now over a half a million veterans that have experienced military sexual trauma.


Recent Media Coverage:

San Antonio Express-News: Hearings on Lackland are long overdue
http://www.mysanantonio.com/opinion/editorials/article/Hearings-on-Lackland-are-long-overdue-4206136.php

San Antonio Current: Advocates: Lackland hearings should spark reforms, not more empty promises
http://blogs.sacurrent.com/index.php/staff/advocates-lackland-hearings-should-spark-reforms-not-more-empty-promises/

NBC News: Civil Rights Commission urged to order audit of military sex-assault cases
http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/11/16469177-civil-rights-commission-urged-to-order-audit-of-military-sex-assault-cases?lite

NBC News: Air Force sexual abuse trial gets underway
http://video.msnbc.msn.com/nightly-news/48202756/#48202756 *Jennifer Norris profile

WOAI News: Congress will Probe Lackland Sex Scandal
http://radio.woai.com/cc-common/news/sections/newsarticle.html?feed=119078&article=10408735#ixzz26H8YEi4z

ABC News: Activists Demand Congress Hold Open Hearing on Air Force Sexual Assaults
http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/activists-demand-congress-hold-open-hearing-air-force/story?id=16916119#.UBv23shrOB9

Paula Coughlin-Puopolo’s petition demanding Congress investigates the Lackland sexual assault scandal can be viewed here:
http://www.causes.com/causes/787301-protect-our-defenders-foundation/actions/1665842

Contact info for the House Armed Services Committee:
Claude Chafin, Claude.Chafin@mail.house.gov (202) 225-4151

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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Remarks of Susan Burke
January 23, 2013
Washington, D.C.
Protect Our Defenders Lackland Media Briefing

Before I begin my remarks, I want to thank three groups of people. First, I want to thank the survivors – Jen and Jessica and Michael and Brian and Terry, and all the others who have the courage and integrity to put their voices and their faces out there on this issue. Without them, nothing would be happening and we, as a nation, owe them a debt of gratitude — so, thank you. Second, I want to thank Protect Our Defenders and Nancy Parrish. Without their persistent efforts, we would not be having this hearing – so, thank you. Third and finally, I want to thank the media. In our nation, those who are disempowered and disenfranchised cannot be effective advocates and cannot get their voices heard unless they have the cooperation and the participation of the impartial media. We need the coverage. We’ve been blessed to have the Invisible War being nominated for an Oscar and to have the media coverage. But we need it to stay with us. We need the media to keep attention on this issue so that we can communicate effectively with the nation and our elected leaders. So, thank you to all of you in the media who are here today.

We are a democracy. We pride ourselves on civilian control over the military. Yet, year in and year out, our elected officials – the civilian leadership that is supposed to be exercising oversight and control – keeps delegating back to the military the task of eradicating rape and sexual assault. The military is not able to solve this problem. They have had decades. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect a different result. We cannot delegate the solution to the problem to the military. We need to have legislation passed by Congress in this session, and and we need that legislation to take justice, the power – the adjudicatory power – out of the conflicted and biased hands of the chain of command and put it in impartial hands. Every man and woman that gives their life to serve this nation deserves the same impartial system of justice that we civilians enjoy. It is simple and it is a violation of our duties as citizens that we have let this persist as long as it has. It must stop and it must stop now. And every member of Congress – the senators and congressmen – they need to look at this issue and realize we cannot keep sending people into battle and give their lives and then turn around and expect them to have to go through their chain of command to get justice. It’s not fair. It’s not Constitutional. And I ask all of you in this room to join with the effort to make sure that we do right by our service members, we do right by our veterans, and we stop this disgraceful state of affairs. Thank you very much.