Protect Our Defenders (POD) founded by Nancy Parrish and community of survivors to address the crisis of rape and sexual assault in the military.
Survivor stories documented: POD travels across the country to interview survivors featured in videos for website.
STOP Act introduced: POD joined Rep. Jackie Speier to introduce bill to remove decision to prosecute sexual assault from chain of command.
POD founder and survivors called on Congress to investigate a complaint filed by an Air Force Tech Sergeant that exposed a pervasive culture of misogyny within the Air Force. Her complaint disclosed songbooks that glorified the rape and abuse of women. POD’s advocacy efforts around this complaint led to an Air Force-wide sweep of all work areas and led to the confiscation of thousands of inappropriate materials, including a lot of pornography.
Lackland Scandal: In the wake of reports of widespread sexual abuse of trainees at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, POD Advisory Board member and Tailhook whistleblower Paula Coughlin successfully led efforts to pressure then-House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon to hold a congressional hearing into the allegations.
Aviano Air Force Base Scandal: organized response to a General who overturned the sexual assault conviction of a fellow fighter pilot, leading to Senate hearings and major policy reform.
POD founder and survivor advocates testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, including the first male survivor to testify before Congress.
POD worked with attorney Susan Burke to shine a light on the military’s abusive Article 32 pre-trial process by exposing the story of a Navy Midshipman who was subjected to 30 hours of degrading questions by defense counsel in open court. POD’s advocacy and policy work around this case led to significant reform of Article 32 to eliminate the practice of aggressive questioning of victims prior to trial.
POD’s Legal Services Program was established to help the hundreds of military survivors facing retaliation and a hostile system. To date, over 200 active duty service members, veterans, and U.S. civilians have accessed legal assistance and case support to protect their rights related to VA benefits, retaliatory discharges, errant medical diagnoses, and privacy rights. The insight gained from these cases have informed and enhanced our advocacy work.
Fought successfully to limit commanders’ ability to overturn convictions and eliminate the ability to use an accused rapist’s “Good Military Character” to decide not to prosecute.
The New York Times Magazine breaks story: Col Christensen (ret.), former Chief Prosecutor of the U.S. Air Force, joins POD as President.
Worked to codify victims’ right to be represented by an attorney during the court-martial process to protect their rights.
A culmination of advocacy efforts led to a vote by a bipartisan majority of the Senate to give prosecutors – instead of an accused’s commander – the power to decide which cases are prosecuted.
POD was featured in hundreds of newspapers including The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. POD was also covered by all the major broadcast news outlets including NBC, ABC, CBS and ESPN.
Working with POD and POD Advisory Board members Brian Lewis and Heath Phillips, GQ Magazine shined a light on male survivors of MST in its groundbreaking cover story, “Son, Men Don’t Get Raped.”
POD’s then-Policy Director Miranda Petersen testified before the congressionally appointed Judicial Proceedings Panel about the need to strengthen privacy protections for survivors – particularly their prior sexual history and mental health communications. POD’s President Col Christensen testified that same year about the need to expand the authority of Special Victims Counsel.
POD worked with Congress to pass legislation mandating consultation with a victim prior to scheduling hearings or court dates and requiring the military to keep victims informed of all procedures during the court-martial process.
Strengthened privacy protections for victims to make it harder for an accused rapist to use a victim’s mental health records against them at trial.
POD achieved additional reforms to eliminate the use of “Good Military Character” as a defense at trial for rape, sexual assault, and other serious offenses. Prior to this change, an accused could be found not guilty for no other reason than someone such as his commander testifying that the accused had good military character.
Launched a successful effort to abolish the abusive practice of allowing defense counsel to conduct unlimited public cross-examination of victims during pre-trial hearings.
POD successfully pressed for legislative changes to eliminate “no punishment” as a sentencing option for those convicted of rape and sexual assault. Prior to this change, someone convicted of rape could go unpunished. Now, the sentence must include a punitive discharge.
POD continued to advocate for fundamental reform through the media and meetings with Congressional members. Coverage included a front-page story in the Washington Post exposing how the military turns a blind eye towards those accused of sexual assault.
POD expanded its PBN by hosting a training session for over 40 attorneys in six cities on the military justice system and legal challenges faced by survivors.
Partnered with Human Rights Watch (HRW) on an in-depth report on retaliation against victims.
In response to changes to the Article 32 hearing process to make victim testimony voluntary, defense counsel began seeking forced depositions in order circumvent these restrictions. POD brought this to the attention of lawmakers and helped pass additional reform to laws governing depositions to bring them in alignment with the standard used in most civilian jurisdictions. These changes limited the use of depositions to preserving testimony for use at trial only if a survivor would be unavailable.
POD successfully secured greater appellate rights for victims who are denied protections afforded to them under the law. The changes allow victims to challenge a military judge’s order in a military appellate court.
POD pushed for legislation that expands SVC services to civilian Department of Defense (DoD) employees who are often victims of military sexual trauma (MST), and requirements that DoD maintain records of investigations and agent notes for 50 years.
Keeping momentum for impartial justice: For a second time, a bipartisan majority of the Senate voted for fundamental reform.
POD holds DoD accountable: POD released a report, Debunked, along with an independent Associated Press (AP) investigation, exposing efforts by DoD to mislead Congress in order to block fundamental reform.
Called on President Obama to launch independent investigation and to support reform: delivered over 160,000 signatures to the White House in support of military justice reform.
POD joined a coalition of veterans organizations and successfully supported legislation to combat retaliatory discharges that deny survivors earned benefits.
POD convened a diverse coalition of nonprofit and veteran service organizations working on a wide range of social justice, policy, and veterans issues that support efforts to achieve fundamental military justice reform.
POD worked with Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) in response to widespread trainee abuse to pass legislation that creates a strict liability standard for military training instructors who engage in sexual activity with trainees in a basic training environment. The new law recognizes the inherent power imbalance in the training environment by eliminating consent as a defense.
POD’s President Col Christensen testified before the congressionally appointed Judicial Proceedings Panel to call for enhanced appellate rights for survivors who continue to be denied legal protections by military judges.
Convened coalition of organizations and allies for justice reform.
POD collaborated with Human Rights Watch (HRW) for a second year to help produce a report. The report is the result of a 28-month investigation that found that for decades, victims of sexual assault have been wrongfully discharged from the military, leaving veterans with stigmatizing discharge papers that prevent them from getting jobs and benefits. The report also found that survivors with bad discharges effectively have no recourse, as the boards charged with correcting unfair discharges provide relief in just 5.6% of sexual assault cases.