What a Week : Protect Our Defenders Featured In NYT, WaPo & CNN
By: Kate Helete — March 4, 2019
In the wake of Senator Martha McSally’s brave revelation that she was sexually assaulted by a superior while serving in the Air Force, POD worked with some of the biggest names in news to shed light on the sexual assault epidemic in the military.
“So like you, I am also a military sexual assault survivor, McSally said during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last Wednesday, “I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences was handled. Like many victims, I felt like the system was raping me all over again.”
For years, military leadership has made promises to fix this rampant problem, yet their words have been proven empty time and time again. Fundamental reform to the military justice system is needed to truly address the severity of the statistics.
Last month, the Pentagon released its Sexual Assault and Violence Report at the Military Academies, which showed a 47% increase in military academy sexual assault cases since the report was last released in 2017. That same year there was also an all-time high 5,111 sexual assault cases – but only 7.9% of those cases were prosecuted.
The egregious issue could not be more clear, and we are incredibly proud of the work they do on behalf of our troops and sexual assault victims to advocate for a fair military justice system. Everyone deserves a fair shot at justice!
Check out some of the stories from last week featuring POD below.
Don Christensen, a retired colonel who served as a prosecutor, defense counsel and military judge in the Air Force for 23 years, said that word of Ms. McSally’s rape never circulated among the Air Force’s military justice community.
The Air Force tries very hard to stifle accusations against senior officers, and if the accusation was never disclosed outside Ms. McSally’s chain of command, then it could have easily been suppressed, said Mr. Christensen, who served as the Air Force’s chief prosecutor from 2010 to 2014 but left the military after an Air Force general threw out a conviction he had won against a pilot over sexual assault.
Had the accusation ever been shared with members of the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps — the lawyers who serve as legal advisers, prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges — it would have been difficult to stamp out, given her prominence at the time and given how small the corps was, said Mr. Christensen, who is now the president of Protect Our Defenders, a military victims’ rights group.
“Everybody knew who McSally was,” he said. “She’s kind of an icon in the military. I just don’t think it ever got to the legal world.”
Until 2006, the military’s Uniform Code of Military Justice contained a five-year statute of limitations for rape cases. But Congress eliminated that from 2006 on; however, cases before that were still subject to the five-year statute, Mr. Christensen said.
If Ms. McSally’s rape occurred after Congress took action, then military investigators could begin an inquiry into her accusations on their own. “But it would be difficult without her cooperation,” Mr. Christensen said.
The Feb. 22 decision in the case against the lieutenant colonel — who was a captain and an F-16 instructor pilot at the time of the assault — and other recent decisions by the same appeals court have resulted in a number of rape cases being overturned or dismissed, said Don Christensen, a retired colonel who was the Air Force’s chief prosecutor before he left the military in 2014.
For a long time, Mr. Christensen said, the accepted understanding was that there was no statute of limitations in military rape cases. But the recent armed forces appeals court rulings have upended that precedent, he said.
“Cases such as Senator McSally’s are now impossible to prosecute, unless they occurred after 2006,” said Mr. Christensen, who is now the president of Protect Our Defenders, a military victims’ rights group.
According to retired Col. Don Christensen, former chief prosecutor for the Air Force and president of Protect Our Defenders, a military sexual assault prevention organization, there would be no statute of limitations if the incident took place after a 2006 law came into effect. A five-year statute of limitations has remained on crimes prior to that law owing to a top military court decision, he said.
Air Force investigators would have an obligation at least to contact McSally because they are supposed to probe any allegations of sexual assault that surface within the service, he said.
McSally, one of the Air Force’s most decorated and well-known female officers, almost left the service when she attempted to share her experiences with others after the incident. The Arizona senator was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and the first to command a fighter squadron in combat.
“Martha McSally was well known. She was a trailblazer. She was a maverick. She was a badass. And this happened to her. And she was facing all these issues,” Christensen said. “So imagine what a young junior enlisted officer is looking at.”
Sen. Martha McSally revealed that she was raped while she served in the military. Ret. Col. Don Christensen agrees with McSally in saying that sexual assault in the military “is a national security issue.”