THE BLOG
09/17/2014 12:18 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2014

Standing With Survivors -- POD's Pro Bono Legal Network Marks 1st Anniversary

Jenny was on her first duty assignment with the Marine Corps when a superior raped her on ship. When Jenny reached out to Protect Our Defenders (POD), she was facing an investigation that was going nowhere, with the military claiming they could not locate her active-duty assailant. POD found Jenny an attorney to fight to protect her privacy rights and demand answers from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Our staff is now helping her with an Inspector General complaint regarding the continued mishandling of her case.

Through the Pro Bono Legal Network (PBN) at Protect Our Defenders, we provide service members like Jenny and other survivors of military sexual trauma (MST) with free legal and casework support. As we continue to grow this program, we wanted to take a moment to share a snapshot of the PBN, so that survivors and service providers know of the assistance that we provide and where they can go to access help.

If you are a service member or a veteran in need of legal representation or case assistance related to your attack, please visit our website and fill out an intake form.

Protect Our Defenders see stories like Jenny's almost every day. These service members come to us because they aren't receiving justice or the assistance they need from the military. They have tried to operate within the resources given to them and yet they are still confronting a lack of justice and too often face retaliation. We created this program because of the horrific stories and the overwhelming need for assistance from people whose obstacles to justice were too great to confront on their own. Fortunately, we have amazing staff members, interns and attorneys who recognize this and are willing to lend their support.

Lauren was a career service member for over 15 years in both the Air Force and Air National Guard. In 2008, Lauren was physically assaulted and raped by her supervisor while stationed abroad. Mindful of retaliation, Lauren reported only the physical assault, and kept the sexual assault to herself for three years until she sought counseling in 2011. When her counselor broke confidentiality rules and informed her command of the attack, retaliation against her began. In November 2011, Lauren was placed on a "medical hold." Since then, she has not been paid and has been prevented from working, with her case left unresolved.

When Lauren reached out to the PBN in early 2014, criminal investigations into the physical and sexual assault were still pending. She was told that her command was planning to administratively separate her, rather than medically retire her with the benefits she deserved. Although she was in contact with a Congressional office, no progress had been made. PBN staff worked with Lauren to compile a comprehensive case file and conducted outreach to Congressional offices on her behalf. After two weeks of facilitated communication with a second Congressional office that specialized on MST issues, Lauren was finally assigned a Special Victims' Counsel (SVC) attorney to assist her and advocate for her rights. Lauren's SVC is now helping her through the process. We remain in contact with Lauren to do what we can to assure a positive outcome.

In addition to supporting survivors, POD works to provide resources and information to military Victim's Legal Counsel (VLC) about how they can more effectively advocate for their clients. Unfortunately, VLCs and Special Victims Counsel (SVC) continue to face pressure from their leadership to limit the scope of their advocacy. As a result many survivors continue to face retaliation and charges of collateral misconduct without legal support. POD is working to empower VLCs and SVCs through policy change, while continuing our push to fix the broken military justice system as a whole.

POD has supplemented its Pro Bono Legal Program by filing amicus briefs in several cases on issues ranging from a victim's right to be heard in court, to the opposition of forced depositions prior to trial, and prevention of victims' confidential therapy records and prior sexual history from being disclosed in court.

Unfortunately, both Jenny’s and Lauren’s stories are all too common. POD continues to hear from survivors whose rights are being undermined, who face retaliation for reporting and who struggle to get the benefits they are entitled to receive. No matter the situation, we work to come up with effective ways to address urgent needs — whether that means finding a pro bono attorney, drafting a letter to a member of Congress, or crafting a Freedom of Information Act request. Even for those survivors who are not sure what they need, PBN staff will do our best to find creative ways help.

As we grow the Pro Bono Legal Program, we encourage you to spread the word about our services for survivors by sharing this blog post, and by visiting our website or filling out our Pro Bono Network Intake Form to request assistance. One of our staff members will be in contact to schedule an intake interview as soon as possible.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of survivors.