August 15, 2013
Contact: Brian Purchia, 202.253.(202) 253-4330,


Washington DC – Today, the Pentagon announced changes to address the epidemic of military sexual assault.

Protect Our Defenders Executive Director and former Navy JAG Taryn Meeks released the following statement:

“Today the Pentagon announced a number of changes to the military justice system. While we support efforts that attack the status quo, these changes are mostly small tweaks to a broken system. With one exception, these changes simply do not constitute fundamental reform and are not sufficient to address the crisis.

One of the Pentagon changes would provide victims of sexual assault with their own legal representation in each branch. This is an important step in the right direction. We applaud their efforts to support victims and protect their rights. Protect Our Defenders has been calling for the creation of legal representation for victims of sexual assault. We filed an amicus brief to the military’s highest court in support of the Air Force’s Special Victim Counsel pilot program. Congress must still codify this right to ensure it is a permanent change so that victims are ensured greater protection. We will be watching closely to see how this change is implemented throughout the branches.

However, the DoD order falls short of reform that would protect victims from the outset – by keeping the decision to prosecute within the chain of command.

Prosecutors – and not commanders – must be given the authority to decide whether to proceed to trial. This change would constitute a fundamental and necessary step toward creating an independent and impartial military justice system. The Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) is the only amendment in the Senate that calls for this reform. There are 46 Senators publicly supporting the MJIA and we are very close to this fundamental reform of the system. We are at is a historic moment and we hope that all lawmakers will see this as the tipping point.

The new policies leave commanders, who are not legal experts, and may have inherent biases and conflicts of interest, with the authority to decide whether to go to trial, pick juries and reduce sentences. This is not a solution. The changes essentially only treat the symptoms, not the underlying causes of the sexual assault epidemic.

Protect Our Defenders supports fundamental reform of the military system to root out sexual assault and rape and give victims and the accused confidence that they will receive fair and impartial justice. The reforms announced by Secretary Hagel are good, but largely incremental, changes. They are not sufficient to fix the broken military justice system. According to the Pentagon’s 2012 SAPRO Report, 25% of victims indicated the offender is someone in their chain of command. Fifty percent of female victims stated they did not report the crime because they believed nothing would be done. Of those few who did report – 60% were retaliated against. Congress must mandate a professional, independent, and unbiased process, so that victims will have enough confidence in the system to even report. Until victims report there can be no justice.

To end this national disgrace, we must start with creating an — independent, professional and impartial military justice system.”

New York Times: Pentagon Finishing Rules to Curb Sexual Assaults

Politico: Decades behind: Sexual assault unchecked as Defense Department ducks reform

Roll Call: Military Women Fear ‘Collateral Damage’ From Reporting Sexual Assault (August 6, 2013)

Washington Post: Gillibrand: Military commanders are ‘failing’ on sexual assault 

New York Times: An Escalating Fight Over Military Justice

Associated Press: Kirsten Gillibrand Targets Military Sexual Assault Law

Chicago Tribune: Editorial: The military’s enemy within

USA Today: Military women say sexual assault and harassment remain

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 or on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at