Nancy Parrish, founder and CEO of Protect Our Defenders (POD), has been on a quest to reform military justice for a decade. She’s succeeding. POD is now the preeminent national organization dedicated to ending the epidemic of sexual violence, victim retaliation and racism in the military, while combating the culture that has allowed them to persist.
Parrish learned how to influence policymakers and navigate the legislative process after working in the state legislature for a senator focused on helping foster kids and youths in prison. But it was years later, after she founded her Southern-based political strategy and public relations consulting firm, that she heard about the case of Terry Odom, a Navy and Army veteran, who had been raped by a superior and left for dead. The rapist told Odom, “You are not the first, and you won’t be the last.”
Parrish decided at that moment to become the voice of service members, disproportionately women and people of color, who come forward to report abuse. She and her POD team provide pro bono advocacy and support for victims. They generate national grass roots campaigns, led by survivors, to engage the press, the public and elected officials to support policy and cultural reform. They have conducted research and released ground-breaking reports, such as Racial Disparities in Military Justice, which have prompted congressional hearings and military investigations.
In December, Parrish’s Protect our Defenders accomplished a historic legal change for the U.S. military, the world’s largest employer. Top Democratic and Republican lawmakers agreed to remove military commanders from most prosecution decisions for cases including rape, sexual assault, murder, manslaughter and kidnapping. But POD vows to fight for even more protections.
To Parrish, victims of serious crimes in the military deserve the same rights as every American citizen. "No rape victim’s boss should decide whether they get justice or not,” says Parrish. “Our service members deserve better."