Air Force Launches Special Victims Counsel for Sexual Assault Victims

Military, News

200247806-001Amid increased focus on how sexual assault cases are handled in the military, the Department of Defense (DoD) has unveiled a new program that advocates for the victims of sexual assault.

Fledgling Program Offers Support to Sexual Assault Victims

The Special Victims’ Counsel program (SVC) was created to provide advocates for the victims in sexual assault cases in the military. Counsel for assault victims has been available in the civilian world for years, but never in the military–until now. Currently, the SVC program is exclusive to the Air Force through the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corp, but if successful could expand to other branches of the military.

The SVC program consists of lawyers specially trained to work with victims in sexual assault cases, guiding them through the legal process and representing them in court. The prosecution represents the U.S. government and its goal is to get a conviction. The goal of the SVC is to provide a voice for the victim and to protect their privacy as much as possible. In certain cases, they can also help manage transfers or changes in housing situations.

Not everyone is convinced. Some judges will not allow SVCs standing in court, and others fear that an advocate for the victim could skew opinion and give the victim an advantage before trial has even begun.

So far, about 50 attorneys have been trained under the program, and around 300 cases have been handled already.

Tackling Sexual Assault in the Military

Success for the SVC program might also encourage members of the military to report assault in the first place, knowing they’d have a special advocate in court to handle such cases.

Instances of sexual assault in the military, which currently consists of more than 1.4 million members on active duty and approximately 850,000 members in reserve, are greatly underreported. Approximately 26,000 members of the armed forces reported unwanted sexual contact in 2012, just a fraction of the total number of cases according to a report from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO).

SAPRO was created in 2005 to address the matter of sexual assault in the military. They oversee the DoD’s policy on sexual assault as well as help victims and address prevention. SAPRO was recently in the news when the head of the Air Force SAPRO, Lt. Col Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested after allegations of sexual assault arose.

Legislation is also being introduced to address the problem. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced the bill Combating Military Sexual Assault Act of 2013 last month, and members of Congress Michael R. Turner (R-OH) and Niki Tsongas (D-MA) sponsored legislation regarding officers’ authority and convicted individuals.

Concern at Several Levels Over Sexual Assault in the Military

The time has come for systemic change. The SVC program will provide support for the victims who have already experienced assault, while efforts on multiple levels of the government will tackle the subject of prevention. Even President Obama voiced concern when he brought up the matter to graduates during a commencement speech at the Naval Academy in May.