March 20, 2020
The Honorable Jerry Hill
California State Senate State Capital
Sacramento, CA 95814
Subject: Letter in Support of SB 1274
Dear Senator Hill,
I write you today urging your support of SB 1274 to roll back governmental immunity for perpetrators who commit sex offenses against members of the California National Guard. I am a retired Air Force judge advocate who served 23 years, almost exclusively in the military justice arena. During this time, I served twice as a defense counsel, multiple times as a prosecutor including as the chief prosecutor for Europe and Southwest Asia, and the chief prosecutor for the Air Force. I also served as a military judge.
I have seen first-hand the devastation that sex assault causes to a survivor and to the fabric of the force. I left the Air Force to become the President of Protect Our Defenders, the nation’s leading advocacy group for survivors of military sexual assault. I have been working in this area for 29 years and fully understand the impact of a lack of accountability for offenders.
Despite decades of promises by DoD leadership, sexual assault in the ranks is getting worse, not better. The most recent data released by the military showed that sexual assaults and rapes against military women skyrocketed 50% to the highest rates since at least 2006. Despite an all-time record-high number of reports of sexual assault and rapes, commanders have taken significantly fewer cases to court. Prosecution rates and convictions have plummeted the last five years with convictions dropping by 60%.
Currently accountability is illusionary. The failure of commanders to hold offenders accountable is a cruel reality for survivors that is only compounded by the legal barriers that close the door to civil remedies. This lack of accountability sends a message to offenders that there is no need to refrain from committing sexual assaults or rape.
The history of the civil rights movement provides empirical proof that access to civil courts can lead to change. A victim, whether of racial discrimination or sexual assault, can force change through civil liability lawsuits. This is especially true when the government has failed to protect the victim. I fully believe that giving access to civil remedies will not only help survivors recover damages for their suffering, but will move the military to finally address its sexual assault crisis.
Please support this vital legislation giving California National Guard survivors the same access to courts as the California residents they protect have now. The National Guard will be stronger, and survivors will have justice.
Col Don Christensen,
President Protect Our Defenders