Victims of sexual assault get a new voice through Special Victims' Counsel

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brian Meeker
  • Special Victims' Counsel
Article 32, Military Rule of Evidence 513, In camera review and Convening Authority are some terms in the military justice process which can seem pretty foreign to Airmen. Sadly, terms like sexual assault, intimidation, fear, embarrassment and isolation are far too familiar with many Airmen who have become victims of some form of sexual assault.

"We must do more to protect one another from this crime, by strengthening our support of victims and making a culture of trust and respect a reality for everyone in our Air Force," said General Mark A. Welsh, chief of staff of the Air Force.

A valuable new resource in this fight is an Air Force initiative called the Special Victims' Counsel.

Prior to January 2013, there were no Air Force judge advocates (military attorneys) devoted solely to the concerns of a victim. After Congress directed legal assistance be specially tailored to victims of sexual assault, the Air Force launched the SVC program which provides active duty judge advocates ,SVCs, for the victim of alleged sexual assault cases.

The SVCs primary mission is the representation of victims of sexual assault and the complete safeguarding and confidentiality of any discussions between them and the client. They also serve as advocates to commanders on behalf of victims, attend interviews with law enforcement or other attorneys and work to protect victims' privacy rights and overall dignity during the court-martial process.

A court-martial can be an intimidating process for anyone, especially an individual who has been the victim of a sexual assault. The victim can expect to be interviewed by several agencies, such as the Office of Special Investigations, the Area Defense Counsel, and the government's attorney. One of the SVC's primary responsibilities is to provide advice and assistance to help protect the victim's privacy as much as possible through the stages of military justice. The advice that an SVC provides may directly influence the victim's ability to feel confident help them prepare to begin a new stage of their recovery.

One of the initial decisions a victim makes is whether to file a restricted or an unrestricted report. A restricted report allows the victim to confidentially report allegations of sexual assault to the SARC, a VA, or medical personnel without the report triggering an investigation, but still being able to access available helping resources and services. An unrestricted report allows the victim to report allegations of sexual assault which will trigger notification to their chain of command and the OSI. While victims using either reporting option are eligible for SVC representation, the SARCs remain the initial point of contact for most victims and their most valuable link to crucial assistance.

"The sky really is the limit for the contacts we make on behalf of victims," said Janet Morrison, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for Hurlburt Field. "From making sure a victim has transportation to an appointment to contacting the Air Force Personnel Center, the SARCs and Victim Advocates ' mission is to do any and everything to help victims recover, including referring them to an SVC so they can be better prepared for the military justice process."

Capt. Luke Spencer, one of the Hurlburt Region's SVCs, points out being located with the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator maximizes the effectiveness of the assistance the Air Force can provide to victims of sexual assault.

"Working directly with the SARC is a great help; by combining our legal skills as experienced military justice practitioners with the expertise of SARCs and Victim Advocates, we are able to provide a holistic, team approach to supporting victims throughout these very difficult experiences," said Spencer "Not only will the SVC zealously defend the rights of the victim, they will provide them advice on what to expect throughout the military justice process."

The Hurlburt Field Regional SVC office provides assistance and support to victims at eleven Air Forces bases in the Southeastern region beside Hurlburt including Barksdale, Columbus, Dobbins, Duke Field, Eglin, Homestead, MacDill, Maxwell, Patrick, Robins and Tyndall. The Hurlburt Field Regional SVC team consists of Capt Luke Spencer and Capt Eric Selke, along with Capt Kristen Beck, who is assigned to Moody AFB, GA, a SVC satellite office. The Hurlburt Field Regional SVC Paralegal is TSgt Brian Meeker.

For more information about the SVC program please contact (850) 884-4509, DSN 579-4509, or email AFLOA.SVC.Hurlburt@Hurlburt.AF.MIL.