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The Most Glaring Omission in Obama's State of the Union Address

In a State of the Union address with a few glaring omissions—gun control and surveillance programs got just one line apiece—perhaps the most surprising was President Barack Obama’s failure to devote even an aside to the issue of sexual assault in the military.

His circumspection was all the more striking when the speech lingered over the service of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan: One of the president’s guests was Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, who has undergone years of surgery after being hit by a roadside bomb. It was the perfect moment to mention that an estimated 19,000 military men and women are assaulted in a year—and why not, since rape in the military actually has bipartisan appeal, enough to have made the strangest of bedfellows out of Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz.

The timing is stark, too: Just last week, Obama released a study on rape, and assembled a new task force to tackle the epidemic on college campuses. Sexual assault was the subject of his weekly address this past Sunday, and he decried the problems in the armed forces in particular as “an injustice that no one who volunteers to protect our nation should ever endure.” He has professed to care deeply about this issue before. “The bottom line is: I have no tolerance for this,” he said last May. And the reformers in his party are in dire need of the push his address could have provided tonight. Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, which would remove sexual assault prosecutions from the military chain of command, may come up for a vote in February—and is vulnerable to a filibuster from her opponents.

Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/1ibhrGq

 

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The White House Announces a Renewed Call to Action to End Rape and Sexual Assault

 

Yesterday, the issue of sexual assault hit the national stage when the White House Council on Women and Girls released a report addressing the scourge of sexual assault in society, announcing a renewed call to action to combat the epidemic of sexual violence.

The report also highlighted the administration's new guidelines to address the particular problem of military sexual assault, and proposed aggressive measures to end military sexual trauma. 

In an address on the report's release, the President had this to say about sexual violence in the military:

"When a member of our military is assaulted by the very people he or she trusted and serves with, or when they leave the military, voluntarily or involuntarily, because they were raped, that’s a profound injustice that no one who volunteers to defend America should ever have to endure."

Click HERE or below to read the full report.

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A military daughter

 

We thought we would share with you this touching email from Dana Brin, who was so moved after watching our film that she wrote to the PBS station that aired it.

This is the power of film and storytelling in action: giving the voiceless a voice and reaching hearts and minds. Thank you Dana for reminding us why we do what we do.

I am writing to you about the rape in the military. I so applaud you and your station for finally telling the truth about the united States Military. I was and am deeply sickened and sad about the state of military. It is so sick to see that justice and military benefits are not getting the help they need because of it. As a military daughter my dad was in the Navy Office Candidate School. He never spoke of this but next week I plan to start asking him about the experience from him and to see if this went on in his ship while he was an officer then.Thank you as a women for getting and having the courage to stand up and tell the whole story. This tells me to never go into the military as a woman, How sad in the year 2013 this is so. God Bless you Independent Lens. Keep talking.

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NO MORE PSA

 

NO MORE "EXCUSES" hit the web today and it's worth a WATCH and a SHARE, to say the least.

Between posters on military bases that list all of the things people should do to avoid becoming a victim, and defense lawyers questioning a victim of military sexual assault about her sexual habits -- whether she wore a bra to a party and how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex -- it couldn't be more clear that the time to stop victim blaming is NOW.

It's time to change the conversation -- away from blaming victims and toward holding criminals accountable.

Watch this video. Share it. It's a great place to start the conversation. Huge shout-out to #NotInvisible supporters, Joyful Heart Foundation for creating this important video.

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Gillibrand's Drive Challenges Senate Power Brokers on Military Sexual Assault Remedy

 

Article by Adele M. Stan, RH Reality Check:

In the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room last June, an extraordinary spectacle took place as the Joint Chiefs of Staff, together with other top military leaders, assembled at a long table for a dressing-down by the senators over the epidemic of sexual assault taking place within the ranks—an epidemic that appears only to have grown since it first became known 20 years ago, and spilled into public view once again this year with a rash of news reports and the release of the latest data on the crisis by the Department of Defense.

By the Pentagon’s own accounting, an estimated 26,000 incidents of unwanted sexual contact were experienced by members of the military in 2012, often at the hands of perpetrators of higher rank. Yet only 3,300 reports of sexual assault were made that year, and a mere 302 went to trial.Senator_Gillibrand_RH_Reality_Check.png

Among the generals’ toughest critics on the committee that day were two women—Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO)—whose questions were as pointed as their rejoinders were barbed.

At one point, McCaskill lectured a panel of commanders on Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin’s decision to overturn the sexual assault conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, citing a letter written by the general to justify his action as “astoundingly ignorant.” Referencing the general’s assumption of the victim’s culpability in her own assault, McCaskill said, “Are you frickin’ kidding me?”

Gillibrand, too, erupted with incredulousness at what she sees as military leaders’ failure to appreciate the depth of the sexual assault epidemic. Some commanders, she said, “can’t distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape.”

While the two share a penchant for outspokenness, particularly on the subject of sexual assault, their solutions to the crisis in the military diverge widely, and they are as different in style as the generations they represent.

Gillibrand’s ‘Question Authority’ Generation X Style

McCaskill, like most of her female colleagues in the U.S. Senate, exemplifies the ethos of the Baby Boomers, as described by a bevy of academic studies: Work hard, play by the rules, and behave with loyalty and deference to those above you in the organizational chart.

The future of the Senate, however, belongs to Gillibrand and her fellow Gen Xers who, according to social scientists, tend to rebel against authority, have little regard for seniority in the workplace, and believe in solving problems immediately—qualities that, especially when possessed by a woman, will jar any observer steeped in the conventions of an earlier generation.

Gillibrand wants to remove the reporting and prosecution of rape, sexual assault, and other serious crimes from the chain of command—a change she and victims’ advocates say will encourage more victims to come forward—and is meeting fierce resistance by military leaders. There’s no getting around the fact that Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act (S.967) would represent a profound change to the very structure of the justice system in the armed forces.

McCaskill has aligned herself with Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), who accepts the claims of Pentagon leaders that removing any authorities from commanders will destroy “good order and discipline” in the ranks, and favors instead a new entity staffed by civilians in each of the armed services that would review any case that a commander refuses to pursue.

If the social scientists are right, the generational difference between two of the Senate’s strongest women may account, in part, for the fact that Gillibrand’s proposal is still alive and gathering support, even after being voted down in the Armed Services Committee, while McCaskill’s reward for playing by the rules in the battle over how to fix the military’s sexual assault has been deserted by nearly all of the other Democratic women in the Senate, who have either co-sponsored or expressed support for Gillibrand’s measure.

Unburdened by the Boomers’ reverence for hierarchy, Gillibrand, in her refusal to bow to the will of her committee chairman or the military brass, forced the women of the Democratic caucus to choose between the remedies favored by victims’ groups or those favored by the male military leaders who have presided over a crisis that has only gotten worse over the last two decades. But in siding with Gillibrand, they’re not merely expressing a desire for structural change in the military; they’re weakening the bonds of gentlemanly protocol in the Senate.

As Congress approached its August recess, the battle between Gillibrand and McCaskill became tense, with military brass, via McCaskill and Levin, publicly opposing Gillibrand, and a victims’ advocacy group allied with Gillibrand launching an unexpected broadside at McCaskill.

Won’t Back Down

When Levin, as committee chairman, shot down Gillibrand’s attempt to include the provisions of her proposal in the mark-up of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), he likely thought that was the end of it.

The two are, after all, in the same party, and Levin is Gillibrand’s senior, by far. In the culture of the Senate, few attributes are venerated more grandly than seniority.

In order to address the sexual assault crisis, Levin included a hodgepodge of measures, ranging from the creation of a victim’s advocate position, proposed by Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT); to removing a commander’s ability to overturn a sexual assault conviction, proposed by McCaskill, and criminalizing retaliation against victims by commanders.

But leaders of advocacy groups say that while helpful, these measures fall short of the kind of fundamental change needed to solve a problem that has only grown worse in the more than 20 years since it was first exposed with the Tailhook scandal, when 80 women and several men were assaulted by Marine and Navy pilots at an annual convention in Las Vegas.

Instead of folding her tent after her remedy was shunted from the mark-up, Gillibrand soldiered on, mounting a campaign to bring her Military Justice Improvement Act to the Senate floor, buttonholing colleagues and building a coalition of support that includes such unlikely allies as Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY), both Tea Party darlings and aspirants for the 2016 presidential nomination (and fellow Gen Xers who have no compunction over defying the leadership of their own party).

At last count, according to sources in Gillibrand’s office, her military reform measure had garnered the support of 46 senators (including its author)—just five shy of the 51 she will ultimately need to convince Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that her measure is worthy of a floor vote.

Reid expects to allow that vote to go forward, according to an aide in the majority leader’s office, who hastened to add that observers should expect to see, in addition to jousting over the Gillibrand measure, a “robust debate of over 30 provisions to combat military sexual assault” when the NDAA comes to the floor later this fall.

An aide to Gillibrand told RH Reality Check that supporters of her measure include nearly all 16 of the Democratic women senators. Two—Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)—have yet to express a view on the bill, and none are standing publicly against it, except for one: McCaskill. (Emails and phone calls by RH Reality Check to the press secretaries of Stabenow’s and Klobuchar’s offices were not returned.)

A former county prosecutor who specialized in sexual assault cases, McCaskill asserts that putting such cases in the hands of prosecutors who work outside the chain of command will lead to fewer cases being tried, not more. A new class of military prosecutors will be loath to move forward with difficult cases, she says, in order to protect their win-loss record.

As Washington bureau chief of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bill Lambrecht has covered McCaskill since she first came to the Senate in 2007. “My sense is that she comes to this issue feeling that she has a lot of experience, and understands motivations and prosecution, and how prosecutors think, because she was one,” he told RH Reality Check.

At a July news conference, McCaskill herself put it this way, according to ABC News:

“I think anybody who knows my record, who knows that I’ve been working at this for years, who understands my time in a courtroom, no one in the Senate has cried with more victims of sexual assault than I have,” McCaskill said. “No one has looked more juries in the eye and said, ‘Put this man in prison for as long as the law allows.’ No one has had more experience with these kinds of crimes than I have. The notion that I would ever be a roadblock to prosecutions, is enough to give me a stomachache.”

The Fairest Adjudication

When the Department of Defense released those jaw-dropping estimates of sexual assault incidents in May, they appeared against the backdrop of relentless news reports of rape and sexual assaults committed by military officials ranging from military recruiters to the lieutenant colonel then in charge of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention unit.

The media’s attention was partly drawn to the decades-old sexual assault crisis by a devastating, Oscar-nominated documentary, released in 2012, on the military’s rape culture: The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick.

Dick says that while he appreciates McCaskill’s concern about a new prosecutorial structure possibly inhibiting numbers of cases that are brought forward, “the much more important bottleneck is how many people report [having been assaulted],” Dick says. “And right now, with less than 10 percent of people [who have been assaulted] reporting, the first objective of any legislation should be to increase reporting … and that’s where the Gillibrand bill is so effective.”

Today, when a soldier reports that she’s been raped or sexually assaulted by another in her unit, it is her commander who decides whether or not the case goes forward. Often the perpetrator is of a higher rank than the victim, who commonly finds that her commander is more inclined to protect the career of a fellow officer than to seek justice for a lower-ranking member.

And it’s not simply a matter of justice denied; retaliation against victims who report the crimes perpetrated against them is common. A Pentagon survey found that among victims who reported having been sexually assaulted, 62 percent said they had suffered retaliation for having done so. Sometimes the retaliation is career-destroying—not just ending the victim’s military career, but impairing her or his civilian career, as well. It is not uncommon for victims to be saddled with a mental health diagnosis after reporting a sex crime by a superior. Brian Lewis, a Navy veteran who spoke at a press event convened by Gillibrand in May, said that he was tagged with a personality disorder after he reported having been raped by a superior.

Gillibrand’s proposal would refer cases of sexual assault and other violent crimes to a new class of prosecutors, trained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, removing the conflicts of interest that often occur when victim and perpetrator serve under the same commander.

The Gillibrand proposal echoes the practices of many of the nations the U.S. counts as its allies, including Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. (Cases specific to military duties, such as charges of going absent without leave [AWOL] or dereliction of duty, would remain under the purview of the chain of command.)

Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah and former judge advocate in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), has been watching the Senate drama unfold.

“I haven’t really seen anything that’s remarkably compelling as to why [the adjudication of sex crimes] should stay within the chain of command,” he told RH Reality Check, speaking via Skype from his home in Israel. Instead, he said, the arguments he hears from Gillibrand’s opponents in the U.S. military amount to, “‘We’ve always done it like that’ and ‘Only the commander knows what’s good for the unit.’”

In Israel, said Guiora, who also served as commander of the IDF School of Military Law, the judge advocate decides whether or not a case goes forward. In that role, he said, “I informed the [unit] commander of my decision, but I didn’t consult with him as to my decision, and I didn’t require his permission as to my decision.”

In the rhetorical contest between McCaskill and Gillibrand, neither have produced data to support their claims as to whether the outside-the-chain-of-command adjudication structure used by U.S. allies for the prosecution of sexual crimes would increase the number of reported assaults, as Gillibrand asserts, or reduce them, as McCaskill says it would.

But that’s not the point, said Guiora. “I think the issue is: What’s going to enable the fairest adjudication of any particular incident? I think that should be the focus,” he said. “What’s important is whether or not he or she—the victim—believes that the attacker, the case against them, will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

McCaskill Blindsided

In Gillibrand’s quest to keep her Military Justice Improvement Act alive after the Armed Services Committee voted against including its provisions in the annual defense spending bill, she began lobbying fellow senators one by one, Politico reported, keeping track of supporters on a big whiteboard in her office.

On July 17, she won a lot of attention when Rand Paul and Ted Cruz signed on as supporters, and appeared with Gillibrand at a press conference. That, and the subsequent article by Politico’s Darrell Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer, seemed to have set her opponents scrambling, and in less than a week, Levin and McCaskill produced letters from top military officials that detailed their contention that the Gillibrand measure would spell disaster for the armed forces.

The next day, a full-page ad appeared in the Post-Dispatch featuring an open letter to McCaskill from Navy veteran Terri Odom, who tells of having been raped and left for dead by a trusted colleague (with a rank superior to hers) when she was in the service, and then forced out of the Navy in retaliation for reporting the assault.

“How can you possibly be against the creation of a professional, independent, impartial military justice system?” Odom says in the ad.

Accompanying the lengthy text is a photograph of Odom from her Navy days—young and pretty, a smiling, dewy-eyed teenager in uniform, purse on her shoulder.

The ad was placed by Protect Our Defenders, a victims’ advocacy group whose president, Nancy Parrish, testified before the Armed Services Committee on the day the brass lined up to take their lumps from the senators for failing to have fixed the military’s rape culture. By all accounts, McCaskill was blindsided by the ad. (Requests by phone and email from RH Reality Check for comment from McCaskill’s office received no replies.)

When asked if McCaskill had been given a heads-up before the ad ran, Protect Our Defenders Executive Director Taryn Meeks, a former judge advocate in the U.S. Navy, told RH Reality Check that she had not. However, members of her group had met with McCaskill in the past, she said, “and there were obvious differences of opinion.”

“The reason that our response was appropriate was based upon many statements that had been made recently by Sen. McCaskill that warranted and necessitated a response,” Meeks said, rattling off three such statements, including McCaskill’s contention, stated in the July 20 episode of the MSNBC program Morning Joe that the Pentagon’s estimates of 26,000 unwanted sexual contacts included “somebody looking at you sideways, saying you look nice in a sweater.” (In fact, the Pentagon estimate does not include verbal sexual harassment, only physical contact.)

Another statement that drew the group’s ire was one McCaskill made to The Nation while explaining her belief that a case brought forward by an accuser’s commander was preferable to one brought by the kind of military prosecutor, working outside of the chain of command, that the Gillibrand bill would create.

“If everybody in the unit knows the commander has said, ‘This needs to go to court,’” McCaskill told The Nation’s Zoë Carpenter, “that gives you a level of protection you will never have when everyone knows a bunch of outside lawyers have bought your bull.”

“Their bull?” Meeks said, with irritation filling her voice. “These are the kinds of statements that we felt really necessitated a response.”

She also took issue with McCaskill’s assertion that the military should be granted another five years to rectify its sexual assault problem before deciding to change the command structure.

Of the ad featuring Odum, McCaskill told the St. Louis Beacon, “If she would have called, I would have loved to visit with her about it because I think if I would have talked to her, she’d get it.”

Pushing Back

Protect Our Defenders was prominently featured at the May Senate event at which Gillibrand unveiled her Military Justice Improvement Act, and the group is viewed as allied with Gillibrand.

The day after the ad appeared, McCaskill convened a press event featuring several retired service members who are women, including Lisa Schenck, associate dean of academic affairs at the George Washington University Law School and a retired Army judge advocate, who argued for maintaining the current adjudication structure for sexual crimes, and expressed support for a proposal put forward by McCaskill that would add a review by civilian experts employed by the military.

Schenck’s comments at McCaskill’s press conference were reported by ABC News:

“If you take out the command authority from the process, you are essentially gutting the military justice process,” Schenck said. “You have to look at why they are there in the first place. They are there for discipline and our military justice process is for discipline. Victims need to be empowered and [McCaskill's] bill empowers the victims.”

(Schenck declined to comment for this article.)

At McCaskill’s side stood Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) and the GOP’s Kelly Ayotte, and joining Schenck among several women military veterans at the event were retired Marine Col. Ana Smythe and retired Navy Capt. Kathy Beasley. Yet none of those arrayed around McCaskill at that press conference were women who claimed to have suffered a sexual assault while in the military.

On the same day, McCaskill also posted on her website two diagrams pertaining to Gillibrand’s bill and the measures included by Levin in the appropriations bill that Gillibrand aides say include text that is misleading. Both of the diagrams on McCaskill’s site carry a note that says victims already have several avenues for reporting a crime outside the chain of command.

“Of course they can,” Gillibrand’s office shot back in a press release issued that same day, “but under the current system, regardless of whom you report the crime to initially, it ultimately ends up on the desk of the commander.”

A few days later, on July 30, Gillibrand made her case on the PBS show NewsHour, telling host Judy Woodruff, “The secretaries of defense, since Dick Cheney was secretary of defense some 20-odd years ago, have said, Judy, over and over again: ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual assault and rape. This has been within the chain of command every one of those years since. Commanders have had every bit of authority they need to tackle this problem and solve this problem, but it’s not being solved.”

Not to be left on the sidelines while the battle ensued, the Pentagon, in early August, fired some 60 troops who worked as either sexual assault counselors, recruiters, or drill instructors, according to USA Today, for “violations ranging from alcohol-related offenses to child abuse and sexual assault.”

A week later, McCaskill appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to say there was no evidence that reporting of sex crimes had risen in the armed forces in countries where the adjudication of such crimes had been removed from the chain of command. She repeated her well-known refrain that to take the prosecution of such crimes from the chain of command was to “let commanders off the hook.”

Two days after McCaskill’s August 12 NBC appearance, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a number of measures the Pentagon was implementing to address the crisis, including a prohibition on commanders’ overturning jury verdicts rendered in sexual assault cases in the military justice system, which they’re currently permitted to do. (That prohibition, via a measure proposed by McCaskill, was already on its way to becoming law as part of the 2013 defense appropriation bill.)

While Gillibrand publicly applauded Hagel on that particular point, she issued a short statement that basically added up to: Nice, but not good enough. Then she went back to summoning support for her bill—the measure opposed by Hagel and the military brass.

The Coming Showdown

In the closing months of the current session of Congress, there’s a pile of business to take up—including a battle with Tea Party Republicans to keep the government open—and Gillibrand faces an uphill slog. Reid may have promised that her measure would see a vote (provided she musters enough support), but the comments of his aide suggest it will be presented amid a flood of competing—and complementary—measures.

“[M]y gut here is that [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid doesn’t want to have this vote on the floor,” said Sarah Binder, senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and professor of political science at George Washington University, in a telephone interview. “It’s rare you see these divisive votes, because the parties don’t like to air their disputes publicly.”

On the merits of Gillibrand’s Military Justice Improvement Act, missing on the list of the measure’s supporters is the majority leader. Indeed, when RH Reality Check asked Reid in May if he supported Gillibrand’s measure, he gave a noncommittal answer.

Binder went on to explain that under the rules of the Senate, there are a number of ways that a vote could be constructed (or sabotaged), one variable being how cooperative Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) deigns to be. But McConnell, normally inclined to side with the Pentagon, may not be so inclined this time around, given the fact that he’s up for re-election in 2014, and is facing a primary challenge from the right. That means he needs the full-throated support of Gillibrand’s ally Rand Paul, Kentucky’s junior senator.

As for McCaskill, she may have won the battle by allying with Levin in voting down the Gillibrand measure in the appropriation bill, but she might just lose the war if Gillibrand wins a floor vote, one in which McCaskill could find herself as the lone Democratic woman in the Senate to stand with the nearly all-male line-up of generals and admirals who acquitted themselves so poorly before the Armed Services Committee during that epic June hearing on the military’s sexual assault crisis.

It all has political observers scratching their heads at McCaskill’s intransigence on the chain of command question, especially given her well-earned reputation as an adept and strategic politician. (This is the woman, after all, who, expecting a tough re-election fight in 2012, nudged Republican primary voters to pull the lever for Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, correctly seeing him as a weak opponent.) As Brookings’ Sarah Binder said, McCaskill’s last election “was really all about being on the right side of the women’s issue.”

“I think that perhaps McCaskill believes that she has more bona fides on this issue than does Gillibrand,” said Lambrecht of the Post-Dispatch. Others in the Senate, Lambrecht said, whisper “that maybe Gillibrand is trying to build on her résumé.”

Amid those whispers is the notion that perhaps Cruz and Paul aren’t the only supporters of the Military Justice Improvement Act who have embraced it with an eye toward the 2016 presidential race.

“There’s certainly some personality issue here,” Binder said. “I don’t normally traffic in those, except to say that Gillibrand is really dogged.”

What Binder sees as a personality conflict, though, may be attributable, in part, to the generational values Gillibrand embodies.

Binder noted how Gillibrand managed to achieve a piece of legislation that eluded Hillary Clinton when the former secretary of state, hardly a pushover, held Gillibrand’s seat: a bill to compensate workers at the post-9/11 ruins of the World Trade Center for the health consequences many encountered while cleaning up that toxic site.

Then there was Gillibrand’s coup in the face of the brass’ resistance to allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Speaking to the New York Times after Gillibrand unexpectedly rallied the votes she needed from Republicans to win a repeal of the Pentagon’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the Senate, Levin told the Times, “She is not shy about her views, and pressing her views and talking to anybody and everybody, on the floor and not on the floor, and in office visits, and in the hallways.”

Even if Gillibrand prevails in getting her Military Justice Reform Act to the Senate floor, it’s unlikely to pass the House, where Republicans are in the majority. But she’ll have kept the issue alive for the better part of a year, called attention to the plight of assault victims, and put the Pentagon on notice that a close eye is turned to its leaders’ promise to fix the problem.

And she’ll have secured her place as one of the Senate’s rising stars, heralding the arrival of the Gen X woman, and the passing of an age of deference.

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Jeff Probst on Military Sexual Assault

 

The Jeff Probst Show has really helped us raise awareness of Military Sexual Assault. And in case you missed Friday's re-run exposing this issue to more people across the US, you can watch the video of THE INVISIBLE WAR director and producer, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering, appearing alongside military rape survivor Rebecca Blumer to discuss actions each of us can take to make a difference. Check out the exclusive video below.

Also, here are a couple of things you can do right now that will have a big impact - choose one and stand with us! Together, we are #NotInvsible.

1. Call Your Senators - Tell them that we need an impartial military justice system, urge them to co-sponsor the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA). You can find your representatives here: http://bit.ly/1aLEIy6. We even provide you with a script. And if you're up for it, you can give us feedback and let us know where they stand on the issue.

2. Help Survivors Heal - Make a contribution to the Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program. An intensive residential program for survivors utilizing non-pharmaceutical healing methods, the Recovery Program was founded by THE INVISIBLE WAR producer Amy Ziering and executive producer Regina Kulik Scully to develop a specialized treatment program for Military Sexual Assault (MST) related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The first 14-day pilot program took place in February 2013 and we're currently underway on the third round of pilot testing. You can make a donation here: https://rally.org/notinvisible 

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New Evidence: Emails from Aviano Sexual Assault Scandal

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 

September 3, 2013 Contact: Brian Purchia, 202-253-4330, brian@protectourdefenders.com

*** PRESS RELEASE *** 

NEW EVIDENCE: EMAILS FROM AVIANO SEXUAL ASSAULT SCANDAL SHOWS BIAS AND BLIND LOYALTY FROM MILITARY BRASS; CASE IS POSTER CHILD FOR AN INDEPENDENT AND IMPARTIAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

Pleas from commander of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base urging Lt Gen Franklin to not overturn Lt Col Wilkerson's aggravated sexual assault conviction ignored; Top Brass supportive of decision to protect Air Force pilot with long history of misconduct over victim and justice exposed

Disclosures send chilling reminder to victims of sexual assault in our military who are thinking about coming forward -- that military brass will go to extreme lengths to protect status quo and old boy's network, In public -- military leaders make statements that they have changed - correspondence shows opposite, Franklin decision cuts legs out from under brave victims, military prosecutors and military courts.   

WASHINGTON, DC - The U.S. military sexual assault epidemic has been international news for months and the case that has become the poster child for calls for an independent and impartial justice system took a disturbing new turn late last week. New evidence released from the Aviano sexual assault scandal show bias and complicity in protecting the old boy's network over the victim.

"These documents make crystal clear why we need independent and impartial military justice system, outside the often-biased and conflicted chain of command," said Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders. "In great detail they highlight how Lt Gen Craig Franklin and high ranking military officials' bias against the victim (who the chief prosecutor called, 'one of the most credible witnesses I've ever dealt with') and how Franklin repeatedly abused his power in order to protect Lt Col James Wilkerson, the perpetrator, even after he had personally overturned the conviction. Lt Gen Franklin was overly invested in seeing that Wilkerson get his clearance reinstated, get a good assignment next tour, and get promoted."

Lt Col Wilkerson was convicted of aggravated sexual assault against a civilian contractor at Aviano Air Force Base. As his punishment, Wilkerson was dismissed from the Air Force and sentenced to one year in jail. Lt Gen Franklin then overturned the conviction and freed his fellow pilot, reinstating him back into the Air Force against the recommendation of his own legal counsel. Franklin excused Wilkerson's criminal behavior in part because of his Good Military Character (GMC) and because he was a "doting father and husband" [See point-by-point rebuttal for Franklin's 18 reasons for overturning the verdict]. After Wilkerson assured Franklin that there were no more skeletons that might come out -- a subsequent Air Force investigation revealed that Wilkerson had an affair and fathered a child out of wedlock, further undermining Lt Gen Franklin's rationale for overturning Wilkerson's conviction and any logic for retaining him as a Colonel in the Air Force. This was just part of Wilkerson's long history of misconduct. It is clear that the chain of command "has his back" and certainly not that of the victim. This behavior continues to this day, despite their public statements.

Four months ago, Wilkerson's victim asked the Air Force to provide documents surrounding the trial and post-trial activities. The military failed to comply with multiple legal deadlines. Only after Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) stepped in and demanded a response that the documents were finally released last week. The newly released emails send a chilling reminder to victims of sexual assault in our military, who are thinking about coming forward, that military brass will go to extreme lengths to protect the status quo. 

In the emails, pleas from the Commander of the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano, Brig Gen Scott Zobrist, who was Wilkerson's immediate commander, urging Lt Gen Franklin to not overturn Wilkerson's aggravated sexual assault conviction, were ignored.

"That would be absolutely devastating in so many ways that I cannot even begin to consider it," Zobrist wrote in a Feb. 19, 2013 email. "Having Wilkerson back on active duty at Aviano, even for one day, would... have a huge negative impact on morale, send a very negative message about how seriously we take sexual assault in the AF, and potentially call into question the effectiveness of our UCMJ system in general."

Lt Gen Franklin dismissed the warnings and instead got support from his entire chain of command to dismiss the jury's findings and toss out the conviction. In email exchanges, the Air Force Commander in Europe, Gen Mark Breedlove stated that he agreed with Franklin regarding overturning the conviction.

General Breedlove wrote "He [Franklin] and I have discussed in depth the meaning and the possible blow back. I stand behind his decision." [Click here for more excerpts from the FOIA release.] Furthermore, on March 15, before 500 majors, rising Commanders Breedlove defended Franklin's actions.

With Breedlove's blessing, Lt Gen Franklin set aside justice and started a full court press to get Wilkerson promoted and flying again.

"I intend to get him back to a flying assignment ASAP (away from Aviano.) Please make sure Col Wilkerson knows he can contact me or his OG... about the way ahead for his next assignment," wrote Franklin. "Getting him reunited with is family is the priority for the next few days. Certainly after he and [his wife] have had a chance to discuss it, we will see what he wants to do next."

Following Lt Gen Franklin's decision, Protect Our Defenders brought the Wilkerson victim to meet with elected officials ahead of a March Senate hearing on the ongoing epidemic and her case. The advocacy group also launched a campaign demanding President Obama and Sec. Chuck Hagel remove Franklin and Wilkerson from the service.

Meanwhile, calls quickly grew to remove the commander's authority to overturn verdicts, which the Defense Department recently agreed to adopt. However, commanders still have the authority to overturn sentences  - a remaining danger to justice and potentially as damaging as overturning a conviction.

Members of Congress, from both parties, condemned Franklin's action. "Franklin clearly substituted his own independent judgment for that of the convened fact-finding panel," said Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

"This [Franklin's explanation] letter, is filled with selective reasoning and assumptions from someone with no legal training, and it's appalling that the reasoning spelled out in the letter served as the basis to overturn a jury verdict in this case," said Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). The Senator went on to say, according to the Washington Post, parts of Franklin's letter explaining his actions, "just set my teeth on edge." 

In May, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) was introduced, which would move the decision to prosecute sexual assault cases from an often-biased and conflicted chain of command. The legislation has widespread bipartisan backing, with 46 senators publicly supporting the bill, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY).

Senior military leaders have repeatedly told Congress and the public that they have "zero tolerance" for sexual assaults in the ranks and that they have changed the culture to address the crisis. The actions revealed in these newly released documents show the opposite. Franklin's decision and senior military's support for it has cut the legs out from under military prosecutors thinking about bringing sexual assault cases to trial and sent a extremely negative signal to victims who must decide whether to report their assaults and rapes.

"After decades of military sexual assault scandals from Tailhook to Aberdeen to Lackland and Aviano it is time for our elected officials to put the interests of our brave men and women in uniform ahead of empty promises from military brass," said Parrish. "The decision of military leaders to support the overturning of the Wilkerson conviction must have been made on faith, faith based on a belief that high ranking officers, whom they trust must be innocent. Our brave sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who risk their lives to protect us -- deserve to receive justice equal that which civilians are entitled - from professional, independent prosecutors, and not be left in the hands of an often biased chain of command."

This past spring, Wilkerson was reassigned, with his rank of Lt Colonel, to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, where many of Wilkerson's victim's family reside. 

--- 

Read FOIA documents released by the Air Force re: Wilkerson  http://www.foia.af.mil/reading/thewilkersonfoiacase.asp

Stars & Stripes: Emails show general warned against reversing Wilkerson verdict 
http://www.stripes.com/news/emails-show-general-warned-against-reversing-wilkerson-verdict-1.238114

Protect Our Defenders Point by Point Rebuttal of Gen Franklin's 18 Reasons for Overturning Col Wilkerson's Sexual Assault Conviction 
http://www.protectourdefenders.com/point-by-point-rebuttal-of-gen-franklins-18-reasons-for-overturning-col-wilkersons-sexual-assault-conviction/

Protect Our Defenders petition Calling on President Obama and Sec. Hagel to Remove Lt. Gen. Franklin and Lt. Col. Wilkerson: http://www.causes.com/aviano

Stars & Stripes: Wilkerson had affair that produced a child, Air Force confirms http://www.stripes.com/news/us/wilkerson-had-affair-that-produced-a-child-air-force-confirms-1.225660 

Military Times: Sex assault clemency surprised prosecutor  http://www.navytimes.com/article/20130422/NEWS/304220007/Sex-assault-clemency-surprised-prosecutor

Arizona Republic: Protest planned over base transfer of sex-scandal figure  http://www.azcentral.com/news/politics/articles/20130422davis-monthan-transfer-sex-conviction.html?nclick_check=1

Stars & Stripes: Air Force to probe new allegations in sex assault case that roiled military justice system http://www.stripes.com/news/air-force/air-force-to-probe-new-allegations-in-sex-assault-case-that-roiled-military-justice-system-1.218182 

Statement to Congress from Aviano Victim:  http://www.protectourdefenders.com/protect-our-defenders-testifies-before-senate-armed-services-committee/

Politico: A call to fire general in sexual-assault dismissal  http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/air-force-general-sexual-assault-dismissal-90521.html?hp=r5

Dallas Morning News: Air Force officer, convicted of sexual assault, is assigned to victim's hometown  http://dallasmorningviewsblog.dallasnews.com/2013/04/air-force-officer-convicted-of-rape-is-assigned-to-victims-hometown.html/

Washington Post: Air Force general¹s reversal of pilot's sexual-assault conviction angers lawmakers http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/air-force-generals-reversal-of-pilots-sexual-assault-conviction-angers-lawmakers/2013/03/08/f84b49c2-8816-11e2-8646-d574216d3c8c_story.html 

New York Times: Hagel to Open Review of Sexual Assault Case  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/12/us/politics/hagel-to-open-review-of-sexual-assault-case.html?ref=jamesrisen&_r=0

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/ProtectOurDefenders or follow us on Twitter athttps://twitter.com/ProtectRDfnders.

Protect Our Defenders partners with Attorney Susan Burke, Burke PLLC to advance lawsuits filed against the DoD and service academies for repeatedly ignoring rape, sexual assault and harassment, failing to prosecute perpetrators and retaliating against the victim.

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How I Healed

 

As you may remember from THE INVISIBLE WAR, I was drugged and raped while serving in the Navy. That experience, combined with the retaliation I endured, nearly destroyed me. Gone was the woman I knew myself to be: fearless, confident and full of promise. I'd become a broken person -- suicidal and beat-down.

But today, I get to tell the second half of my story -- that of my recovery. It’s been a long and winding road but the Not Invisible community has shown me that I am not alone. With your support, I've been able to reclaim my voice. Now, thanks to the Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program, I’ve been able to reclaim my power, too.Trina_at_the_Recovery_Program.png

It’s been a gradual shift but my nightmares have stopped and my family can see the difference in me, growing stronger every day.

Stand with me and support survivors of Military Sexual Trauma. Make a donation today to the Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program to help other survivors get the healing they need and deserve.

The Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program is a groundbreaking trauma recovery program that incorporates non-pharmaceutical treatments and modalities to help survivors of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) heal. Founded by producer Amy Ziering and executive producer Regina Kulik Scully, this community is stepping up where the government has fallen short -- providing a holistic program and a safe space for survivors to heal.

I am grateful to have attended the first pilot program and thanks to the support of many they are now underway on a third round of the program. If I’ve learned one thing throughout this all, it’s that it takes a village.

If you can make a donation today, please do. Any amount -- big or small -- will help heal women and men who’ve suffered enough. Suffered not just sexual assault but the experience of the military they love turning its back on them.

100% of your contribution goes to help keep the program operating, counseling survivors of military sexual trauma and healing our wounds.

Together, we have made this issue not invisible. And together, I know we can support the healing of many more survivors.

Together, we are #NotInvisible.

Thank you,
Trina

http://www.notinvisible.org/recovery_program

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Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program

 

This movie and moreover, the movement that so many individuals helped jumpstart after seeing the film, has been a humbling experience to say the least.

Every day in our US military, according to DoD estimates, 49 men and women are sexually assaulted. Not overseas, not in the line of combat, not by the enemy - but here, on American soil, in the line of duty by their fellow soldiers. Together, we have been sharing THE INVISIBLE WAR and the message of the movie with friends, family and colleagues. We have gathered over 200,000 petition signatures urging the military to solve this crisis, and urging lawmakers to stand with survivors instead of the military top brass. Our actions have influenced policy, outed the military's dirty little secret and brought this issue to the national stage so that survivors of military sexual trauma can get the support they need and deserve.

In a recent article, "Trapped in Trauma: Male Victims Confront Sexual Assault in Military," by Leonora LaPeter Anton, writer for the Tampa Bay Times, we were saddened to learn that "nationwide, the VA has reserved 51 beds at six locations for military sexual trauma victims."

While we've been extremely vocal about the need for change and never shy about asking you to take actions that will help ensure real lasting change -- like calling your Senators and signing petitions -- we've been more reserved about something else we've been building, the Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program. Inspired by their work with MST survivors in THE INVISIBLE WAR, producer Amy Ziering and executive producer Regina Kulik Scully launched the Recovery Program to create an intensive residential program that utilize non-pharmaceutical methods to help survivors heal. 

We're currently underway on our third round of pilot testing and hope to be to scale to a national program to reach as many survivors as possible. You have not only helped us raise awareness and make political change, but you have paved the way to create a program that has helped survivors heal. 

If you'd like to support the Artemis Rising Invisible War Recovery Program, please visit us and make donation at https://Rally.org/NotInvisible by CLICKING HEREThank you for your continued support and committed action. Together, we are #NotInvisible.

And, in case you missed it, here's a clip from Katie Couric's daytime show, "Katie" that features producer Amy Ziering, personal injury lawyer Susan Burke, and some of the incredible survivors from our first program.

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BREAKING NEWS: The Pentagon Releases New Sexual Assault Policies for the US Military

photo c/o Politico

photo credit: Politico 

Earlier this afternoon, the Pentagon rolled out new rules governing how the military will prosecute and investigate sexual assault.  

According to a report from USA Today, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel called military sexual assault “a stain on the honor of our men and women who honorably serve our country, as well as a threat to the discipline and the cohesion of our force,” adding that “it must be stamped out.”

The new rules would crack down on inappropriate relations between recruiters/instructors and new troops and provide survivors in each service with victim-advocacy programs, as well as legal advice and representation while reporting sexual assault.  Commanders will also be granted authority to transfer the accused to another unit, so that the burden isn’t placed on survivors, who currently have to request a transfer or serve with their assailant.  In addition to requiring regular reporting from the inspector general on sexual assault investigations that have been closed, the new policies would also require that the investigating officer in preliminary hearings on sexual assault be a military lawyer, to ensure that they are properly handled.    

These—and the rest of the policies that Sec. Hagel announced today—are a necessary step forward and represent a major victory.  But while the new measures are a clear indicator that our voices are being heard, they don’t go far enough to make the real change we need to fix the military’s broken justice system.

As Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said today in statement:

“The Pentagon taking action is a good thing and these are positive steps forward but it is not the leap forward required to solve the problem. As we have heard over and over again from the victims, and the top military leadership themselves, there is a lack of trust in the system that has a chilling effect on reporting. 302 prosecutions out of an estimated 26,000 cases just isn't good enough under any metric. It is time for Congress to seize the opportunity, listen to the victims and create an independent, objective and non-biased military justice system worthy of our brave men and women's service.”

That’s why we need to keep the spotlight turned on this issue by urging Congress to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act.  Go to http://phonebank.org/campaign/fight-justice-military-sexual-assault-survivors to call your Senator today and let them know that we need them to take this important next step to end rape in the military.  

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