Washington, DC – Protect Our Defenders (POD), the only national organization solely dedicated to ending the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military, today announced the launch of a national campaign to address the crisis of military sexual assault ahead of the upcoming Senate elections. The effort is led by a community of courageous military sexual assault survivors including Tailhook Whistleblower Paula Coughlin and Air Force veteran Harmony Allen, whose rape case is set to appear before the Supreme Court on October 13th. Harmony kicked off the campaign with a stirring call to action asking Senate candidates to sign the 2020 Senate Candidate Pledge committing to fundamental military justice reform. No rape victim’s boss should decide whether they get justice or not. The campaign is a follow-up to POD’s 2020 Presidential Candidate Pledge in which 19 of 20 of candidates signed on, including Democratic Nominee Joe Biden, Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris, Former Governor Bill Weld, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
“The fact it’s taken nearly two decades and the highest court in the United States for a shot at justice proves that the military justice system is overwhelmingly stacked against survivors,” said Harmony Allen, Air Force veteran and military sexual assault survivor. “Victims of military sexual assault have been shouting from the rooftops for years, but there’s been little to no response from military leadership. It’s clear that Congress needs to step in. I hope Senate candidates recognize the responsibility they have in protecting the women and men who serve our country and commit to fixing a broken system.”
Fundamental reform would include removing prosecutorial authority from the chain of command for serious non-military crimes such as rape and murder, and empower experienced military prosecutors to make those decisions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) and Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield (D-IA), are among the Senate candidates who already support fundamental reform, alongside a majority of Congress. The goal of the campaign is to receive commitment from a filibuster-proof 60 senators.
“As a military mom with a long line of relatives who served our country, I’m proud to stand alongside a bipartisan group of leaders in supporting Protect Our Defenders’ national campaign to end the crisis of sexual assault in the military,” said businesswoman and candidate for U.S. Senate, Theresa Greenfield. “Together, as we fight for these fundamental reforms, we are upholding our promise to protect our servicemembers, veterans and their families and pledging to join the courageous sexual assault survivors in our military seeking justice.”
In recent months, public attention has turned to the epidemic of military sexual assault and harassment following the tragic murder of Vanessa Guillen and outrcy from active duty servicemembers. Pentagon estimates of sexual assault and rape of active duty members skyrocketed by 38% between FY16 and FY18, and almost 25% of active duty women report they were sexually harassed in 2018. Service women who report sexual assault are 12 times as likely to experience some form of retaliation as to see their attacker convicted of a sex offense. Despite decades of promises from military leadership, the problem continues to grow.
“Time and time again we’ve heard empty platitudes from military leadership but with no evidence of institutional change — it’s long past time we address the sexual assault epidemic in the military by putting serious crimes in the hands of trained professionals,” said Col. Don Christensen (ret.), the former Chief Prosecutor of the United State Air Force and President of POD. “Protect our Defenders and countless brave survivors have been fighting toward that end for years. Our best and brightest deserve a fair shot at justice.”
Empowering independent, trained military prosecutors, rather than commanders, with the authority to prosecute non-military offenses would help prevent sexual harassment, assault and retaliation, and take a vital step towards removing the systemic barriers that survivors of military sexual assault face when coming forward to report crimes. It would also free commanders of conflicting responsibilities and better enable them to maintain good order and discipline. Other military veterans and sexual assault survivors leading the campaign include Army veteran and CEO of the Women Veteran Social Justice Network BriGette McCoy, Army veteran Terri Odom and Navy Veteran Heath Phillips.
Today’s announcement comes at a pivotal time for the military justice system. In November 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal from the Justice Department to review US vs Mangahas, a military court decision that reversed decades of legal precedent and established a 5-year statute of limitations for rape cases that occured between 1986 and 2006, ultimately setting free or stopping the prosecution of dozens of rapists. Harmony Allen, one of the survivors leading the POD campaign, is one of the three survivors whose case will appear before the Supreme Court on October 13th. Earlier this year, POD joined Allen in filing an amicus curiae brief.
To ask the 2020 Senate candidates to commit to fundamental military justice reform or learn who already supports reform, please visit: https://www.
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/