FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 4, 2018
Protect Our Defenders Launches National Law Center to Provide Free Legal Services to Military Sexual Assault Survivors and Families
Former Air Force Chief Prosecutor Col. Christensen and President of Protect Our Defenders to try cases on behalf of survivors of military sexual assault
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Protect Our Defenders (POD) announced the launch of the Protect Our Defenders Law Center to provide direct, free legal and casework assistance to survivors of military sexual assault or sexual harassment. POD is now able to directly represent clients and engage in litigation, while continuing to build support from our extensive pro bono network of nationally known law firms. By serving as co-counsel on cases, POD will better assist our pro bono attorneys and survivors with the often traumatizing and complex legal and professional issues related to military assaults and harassment.
“We see an ever-increasing number of active duty, veterans, family members, and military civilians seeking help. This year alone, the number of survivors asking for legal support from Protect Our Defenders has doubled,” said Col. Scott Jensen, USMC (Ret.), POD’s Chief Executive Officer. “Opening this Law Center is the critical next step in not only helping those in need who have no one else to turn to, but also in enhancing our ability to demand the legal and cultural reforms necessary to ensure a safe and respectful workplace — free from sexual violence, a culture of misogyny and racism — for those who chose to serve our country.”
The new national Law Center is spearheaded by Col Don Christensen, President of Protect Our Defenders and the former Air Force Chief Prosecutor, and Becky Burke, Executive Director of Protect Our Defenders Law Center and previous director of pro bono programs at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Col Don Christensen joined POD nearly four years ago, leaving the United States Air Force after 23 years. Having served for four years as the Chief Prosecutor of the U.S. Air Force—the longest time for anyone who has held that position— he was responsible for managing military prosecutors all over the world.
“Having the ability to directly represent clients will allow Protect Our Defenders to level the playing field for sexual assault survivors who are navigating the opaque and unfair military justice system,” said Becky Burke, Executive Director of Protect Our Defenders Law Center.
Col Christensen and POD staff are already working on a number of cases as part of the Law Center, including a $25 million lawsuit filed by the Perry family against the Marine Corps. Adrian Perry, the mother of a daughter abused by Col Daniel Wilson, has filed notice under the Federal Tort Claims Act for the pain and suffering of her child caused by Marine Corps failure to thoroughly investigate Wilson’s prior criminal misconduct. The new Protect Our Defenders Law Center is the only program in the country providing free legal services specifically for survivors of military sexual assault and harassment.
“We are truly grateful for the legal support Protect Our Defenders has provided our family,” says Adrian Perry. “Their desire to fight alongside us in order to see to it that our voices are heard, rather than silenced, is truly remarkable. Their services provide a shining beacon of hope for survivors of sexual assault and harassment within the military community. That alone is a priceless gift to a survivor who has lost all hope due to the unfortunate challenges that come with pursuing justice in cases of military sexual assault.”
In November 2017, two months after Wilson was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison after being convicted of child sexual abuse, a Marine Corps Inspector General’s report faulted the commanding general for failing to thoroughly investigate Wilson’s actions in Australia before Wilson was posted at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where the assault had occurred. Adrian is now working with Protect Our Defenders to hold the military accountable for their lack of action to hold Wilson accountable for his crimes.
POD is transforming its existing Legal Services Program into a broader, more strategic, higher profile national law center. Through the Legal Services Program POD has provided legal referrals and case assistance to over 1000 survivors and attorneys in our network have donated over eight million dollars in legal services. Our staff and partners at law firms across the country provide pro bono services including victim legal representation for the military justice process, protection from retaliation, discharge records corrections, and assistance with obtaining needed health care.
As Protect Our Defenders pushes for fundamental reform to the military justice system, they encourage anyone who has experienced retaliation, or other legal challenges due to a sexual assault while in the military, to contact the Protect Our Defenders Law Center. For more information visit: https://protectourdefenders.neworg.com/